Chukar Partridge, Alectoris chukar

The Chukar Partridge or Chukar (Alectoris chukar) is a Eurasian upland game bird in the pheasant family called Phasianidae. It’s been considered to form a super species complex along with the Rock Partridge, Philby’s Partridge and Przevalski’s Partridge and treated in the past as conspecific especially with the first. This partridge has well marked white and black bars on the flanks and a black band running from the forehead across the eye and running down the head to create a necklace that encloses a white throat. The species has been introduced into many other places and feral populations have instituted themselves in parts of North America and New Zealand.

The Chukar is a round 13 to 14 inches long partridge, with a light brown back, beige belly and grey breast. The shades vary across all of the various populations. Its face is white with a black gorget. It has brownish-red streaked flanks, coral red bill, and red legs. The sexes are similar, the female slightly smaller in size and lacking the spur. Its tail has fourteen feathers; the third primary is the longest while the first is level with the fifth and sixth primaries.

It’s very similar to the Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca) with which it’s been lumped in the past but is browner on the back and has a yellowish tinge to the foreneck. The sharply defined gorget sets apart this species from the Red-legged Partridge which has the black collar breaking into dark colored streaks near the breast. Their song is a noisy chuck-chuck-chukar-chukar from which the name comes from. The Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara) has a reddish brown rather than black collar with a grey face and throat with a chestnut crown. Other common names of this bird include Chukkar (sometimes spelled like ‘Chuker’ or ‘Chukor’), Indian Chukar and Keklik.

This partridge has its native range in Asia, from Israel to Turkey through Afghanistan to India, along the inner ranges of the Western Himalayas to Nepal. Further west in southeastern Europe it’s replaced by the Red-Legged Partridge, Alectoris rufa. It hardly ranges into Africa on the Sinai Peninsula. The habitat in the native range is open rocky hillsides with scattered shrub. grass or cultivation. In Israel and Jordan it’s found at low altitudes, beginning at 400 meters below sea level in the Dead Sea area, whereas in the more eastern areas, it is mostly found at an altitude of 2000 to 4000 m except in Pakistan, where it is found at 600 m. They’re not found in areas of high rainfall or humidity.

It’s been introduced widely as a game bird, and feral populations have become established in the United States Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, high desert areas of California, Canada, New Zealand and Hawaii. Initial introductions into the United States came from the nominate populations collected from Afghanistan and Nepal. It’s also been introduced to New South Whales in Australia but breeding populations haven’t persisted and are probably extinct. A tiny population exists on Robben Island in South Africa since it was introduced there during 1964.

The Chukar Partridge is part of a perplexing group of Red-Legged Partridges. Several plumage variations in the widespread distribution of the Chukar Partridge have been described and designated as subspecies. In the past, the Chukar group was included with the Rock Partridge. The species from Turkey and farther east was subsequently separated from A. graeca of Greece and Bulgaria and western Europe.

The following are the 14 recognized subspecies. A. c. chukar in eastern Afghanistan to eastern Nepal. A. c. cypriotes in southeastern Bulgaria to southern Syria, Crete, Rhodes and Cyprus. A. c. dzungarica in northwestern Mongolia to Russian Altai and eastern Tibet. A. c. falki in north central Afghanistan to Pamir Mountains and western China. A. c. kleini. A. c. koroviakovi in eastern Iran to Pakistan. A. c. kurdestanica in Caucasus Mountains to Iran. A. c. pallescens in northeastern Afghanistan to Ladakh and western Tibet. A. c. pallida in northwestern China. A. c. potanini in western Mongolia. A. c. pubescens in inner Mongolia to northwestern Sichuan and eastern Qinghai. A. c. sinaica in the Northern Syrian Desert to the Sinai Peninsula. A. c. subpallida in Tajikistan. And A. c. werae in eastern Iraq and southwestern Iran.

This species is fairly unaffected by hunting or loss of habitat. Its numbers are largely affected by weather patterns during their breeding season. The release of captive stock in some parts of southern Europe can threaten native populations of Rock Partridge and Red-legged Partridge with which they might hybridize.

During the non-breeding season, Chukar Partridge are found in small groups of 10 or more (up to 50) birds. During the summer, Chukars come together in pars to breed. During this time, the cocks are very confrontational in calling and fighting. During winter, they descend into the valleys and feed in the fields. They call frequently during the day especially in the mornings and evenings. The call is loud and includes loud repeated “Chuck” notes and sometimes duetting “Chuker” notes. Several calls changeable with context have been noted. The most common call is a “rallying call” which when it is played back elicits a response from birds and has been used in surveys, although the method is unreliable. When this bird is disturbed, it prefers to run rather than to fly, but if necessary it flies a short distance often down a slope on rounded wings, calling immediately after landing. In Utah, birds were found to forage in an area of about 2.6 sq km and travel up to 4.8 km to obtain water during the dry season. The home range was found to be even smaller within Idaho.

Summer is their breeding season. The males perform tidbitting displays, a form of courtship feeding where the male pecks at food and a female may visit to peck in response. The males may chase females with their head lowered, wings lowered, and neck fluffed. The male might also perform a high step stiff walk whilst making a special call. The female may then crouch in acceptance and the male mounts to copulate, while grasping the nape of the female. The males are monogamous. The nest is poorly lined ground scrape, though occasionally a compact pad is created with a dip in the middle. Generally, the nests are sheltered by small bushes and ferns, or placed in a dip or rocky hillside under an overhanging rock. About 7 to 14 eggs are laid. The eggs hatch in approximately 23 to 25 days. In captivity, they can lay an egg each day during the breeding season if eggs are collected daily. Chicks join their parents in foraging for food and will soon join the chicks of other members of the group.

Chukar will take a wide variety of seeds and some insects for food. It also will ingest grit. In Kashmir, the seeds of a species of Eragrostis were especially dominant in their diet while those in the US favored Bromus tectorum. Birds feeding on juicy vegetation make up for their water needs but visit open water during the summer.

Chukars roost on rocky slopes or under shrubs. During the winter, birds in the US selected protected alcoves or caves. A group might roost in a tight circle with their heads pointed outwards to conserve heat and to watch for potential predators. They are sometimes preyed upon by Golden Eagles. Birds in captivity can die from mycoplasma and outbreaks of other diseases such as Erysipelas.

This bird is the national bird of Pakistan. In Punjab, the Chukar has been seen as a symbol of intense and often unrequited love. It was thought to be charmed by the moon and said to constantly gaze at it. Because of their pugnacious behavior during breeding season, they are kept in some areas as fighting birds.

British sportsmen in India considered the Chukar as good sport although they were not considered to be especially good in flavor. Their speedy flight and ability to fly some distance after being shot made recovery of the birds hard without retriever dogs. In cold winters, when the higher areas are covered in snow, people in Kashmir have been known to use a technique to tire the birds out to catch them.

The Idaho Falls Chukars are minor league baseball affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

Image Caption: Chukar (Alectoris chukar) – Capitol Reef National Park (Utah, USA) 2004. Credit: Mdf/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)