The rugged game bird that pushes upland hunters to new limits (Alectoris chukar).
Like the ring-necked pheasant, the chukar is a non-native game bird species introduced from the Middle East and Asia. Since its introduction here, the chukar has thrived in the arid environments of our Western states and is a popular game bird for ambitious upland hunters.
Description and Life History of the Chukar
The chukar is a small, plump bird with feather colors that more resemble a shorebird than a game bird. Males and females look virtually the same, though males are typically larger than females. They have cream to tan colored feathers across most of their body, and have white wings with vertical black stripes. Their heads are creamy-gray with a black ring around their red bills and red-fringed eyes. The color of their legs has earned them the nickname “red-legs” by many hunters.
Males begin courting females in their own separate territories by tilting their heads and displaying in a circle around the females. The males may even bring food to the female during the courtship process. Females typically choose a nest site under vertical cover (e.g., rocky ledge, sagebrush, shrub) and line the ground depression with grasses and feathers (National Audubon Society 2018). The female lays a clutch of about 8 to 14 eggs. The female incubates the eggs by herself for about 22 to 24 days, although males may occasionally incubate the first clutch while the female lays a second clutch elsewhere (NatureServe 2018). The precocial chicks can feed themselves shortly after hatching and can fly within 7 to 10 days (National Audubon Society 2018).
After the breeding season, family groups usually join to form larger coveys that remain together until the following spring. Chukar are ground foragers that feed most heavily in the mid-morning and afternoon. Plant matter makes up most of an adult’s diet, while chicks feed heavily on insects (e.g., grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants) as well. Specifically, chukar forage on seeds and leaves from cheatgrass, Russian thistle, pinyon pine, sunflower, rough fiddleneck and mustard species but also feed on berries (e.g., Russian olive) (All About Birds 2018; National Audubon Society 2018).
Common nest predators include magpie, ravens and gopher snakes, while coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and raptors (e.g., golden eagles, hawks, falcons, great horned owls) may prey on adults and chicks (Sullivan 1994).
Range and Habitat of the Chukar
As mentioned, the chukar was introduced across our country starting in the late 1800s. However, they only seemed to survive and thrive in the Western states, primarily in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada and Utah (National Audubon Society 2018). They are uncommon in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of southern Canada.
The chukar is a high elevation bird that usually occupies dry shrublands and steep, rocky slopes (All About Birds 2018). Though its preference for brushy, desert canyons and mountain habitats is similar to the Mearns quail, the chukar is found in more Northern states than the quail. Sagebrush grasslands, chaparral, barren plateaus and sparsely covered desert communities are also attractive to chukar (NatureServe 2018; National Audubon Society 2018). However, they still require reliable water sources to flourish and may locally migrate to find them.
Conservation Issues for the Chukar
Chukar are native to Eurasia, so there are very few ecological conservation concerns in our country due to its non-native status. However, the estimated global breeding population of the species is approximately 9 million birds and it is considered globally secure (All About Birds 2018; NatureServe 2018).
Since the chukar prefers dry, rocky, steep and remote habitats, there is little threat of habitat loss due to human development, agriculture and even cattle grazing. The only limiting natural factor is from drought conditions, which reduce available forage and water sources.
Hunting Opportunities for the Chukar
To be clear, chukar hunting is very hard work. The environments and habitats these birds seek out is tough for most people unless you have a little mountain goat blood in your family tree. But it can also prove very rewarding. Since most of the chukar’s primary range occurs on public lands, lots of hunting opportunities exist. Below are a several states to consider if you are looking for chukar.
|State||Season||Season/Possession Limit||Unit Restrictions|
|Arizona||Sept 1 – Feb 9, 2020||5/15||Statewide|
|California||Oct 19 – Jan 26, 2020||6/18||Statewide|
|Colorado||Sept 1 – Nov 30, 2019||4/12||Statewide|
|Idaho||Sept 21 – Jan 31, 2020||8/24||See State Rules|
|Montana||Sept 1 – Jan 1 (10), 2020||8/32||See State Rules|
|Nevada||Sept 28 – Oct 6, 2019||6/18||Statewide|
|Oregon||Oct 5 – Jan 31, 2020||8/24||Statewide|
|Utah||Sept 28 – Feb 15, 2020||5/15||Statewide – Excludes closed areas and Native American trust lands|
|Washington||Sept 28 – 29 (Youth Only)|
Oct 5 – Jan 20, 2020
|Wyoming||Sept 15 – Jan 31, 2020||5/15||Area 1. That portion of Wyoming east of the Continental Divide.|
Before you go on a chukar hunt, you may want to do some hill climbing training workouts. Your legs and lungs will be grateful later on. Pick your locations wisely. If you do not have to scramble up and down rocky hillsides, you will be in better shape to make a shot count later on. During the warmer early season, focus your efforts near riparian areas and streams, where coveys congregate for water. In the mornings and evenings, transition to agricultural fields and cheatgrass openings, where the birds may be feeding. And in the colder late season, focus your hunting efforts on south-facing hillsides, where the birds sun themselves for warmth.
Having a good bird dog on your side will really help. They will be much more likely to find and point the birds, and retrieving dogs will also save you some legwork. If you do not have a dog, pausing often is a good strategy – not just for catching your breath, but so you can also listen for the ‘chuk-chuk-chukar’ call that could give away their location. If possible, descend on groups of chukar from upslope, as they will often run uphill and fly downhill. While you would rarely be able to catch up to a running bird, you may pull off a shot if they fly below you. And if you actually harvest a chukar on your first hunt, consider yourself lucky!
All About Birds. 2018. Chukar. Accessed at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Chukar/lifehistory
National Audubon Society. 2018. Guide to North American Birds. Accessed at: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/chukar
NatureServe. 2018. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life. Accessed at http://explorer.natureserve.org
Sullivan, Janet. 1994. Alectoris chukar. In: Fire Effects Information System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Accessed at: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/alch/all.html
Last modified: November 28, 2019