A boldly colored game bird native to Europe and Asia, the chukar was introduced several times to North America in the western parts of the United States and Canada in the late 1800s through the 1930s. It is now well established and thriving in many areas, bringing a unique and exotic sighting to many birders. This member of the Phasianidae bird family is often a target bird for visitors to its range, and its bold markings make it easy to identify. Learn more about what makes chukars unique in this fact sheet!
- Scientific Name: Alectoris chukar
- Common Name: Chukar, Chukar Partridge
- Lifespan: 3-5 years
- Size: 14 inches
- Weight: 1-1.2 pounds
- Wingspan: 22 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
The stocky build, round body, and short tail of the chukar immediately make it recognizable as a relative of quail, pheasants, and other game birds, but it is important that birders note key field marks to properly identify these birds. Genders are similar though males are somewhat larger and have a small spur on each leg. For both males and females, the bill is bright red, short, thick, and strongly curved on the upperside. The face is marked with a black band that extends through the lores and eyes, along the cheeks, and into a sharply defined, pointed necklace across the upper breast. A white eyebrow can be visible above that band, and a small brown ear patch can occasionally be seen. The chin and throat are buff-yellow while the crown, back, rump, and wings are gray-brown. The tail is gray with chestnut outer feathers, most easily visible in flight. The abdomen is buff-yellow and the flanks are heavily, vertically barred with chestnut, black, and white. The undertail coverts are a pale chestnut. The eye is dark but surrounded by a bright red eye ring, and the legs and feet are reddish.
Juvenile birds look similar to adults but lack the barring on the flanks and have more overall mottling on their plumage.
These birds are not exceptionally vocal but do have a raspy, loud “chuk-chuk-chuk” call that can be quite rapid and repeated for many syllables, particularly when the birds are agitated or alarmed. Other soft clucks and similar calls can also be heard.
Chukar Habitat and Distribution
Chukars prefer arid, open habitats including plains, plateaus, and rocky canyons with only scattered shrubby brush for occasional cover, though they are adept at taking shelter in rocky crevices. They can be found at up to 10,000 feet elevation.
The chukar's native Eurasian range extends from Turkey to China, including parts of southern Russia and northern areas of Pakistan and India. In North America, chukars can be found in the Rocky Mountain area extending from southern British Columbia through Nevada and Utah to eastern Wyoming, as well as in central southern California. These game birds have also been introduced and now have wild populations in Hawaii and New Zealand.
Sightings well outside the chukar's range and typical habitat are generally a result of game bird releases for hunting purposes, or escaped birds from exotic collections or game bird facilities.
While these birds do not migrate long distances seasonally, chukars may descend to lower elevations in the winter months, particularly during periods of heavy snowfall. This altitudinal migration is highly variable and not all populations will make these movements.
These are terrestrial birds that are more likely to run rather than fly from a perceived threat, but when they do take flight they often stay low to the ground and fly with a series of very rapid wing beats followed by a glide. They can be found in small groups year-round but are more gregarious in winter, when flocks can grow to 40 or more individuals. When they are not feeling threatened by hunting, they may perch boldly on rocks and can position lookout birds to watch over the rest of the foraging flock.
Diet and Feeding
Chukars are omnivorous birds that eat a wide range of foods, including seeds, roots, grass, grain, insects, and fruit. They will shift their food sources from season to season depending on what is most abundant and easiest to find. While foraging, they will scratch and peck at the ground to uncover food or may pluck berries, fruit, and seeds directly from plants.
These are mostly monogamous birds, though some isolated cases of polygamy have been recorded. The female will construct a shallow scrape nest lined with feathers or dry grasses in an area where it is sheltered or concealed by a nearby shrub, grass clumps, or rocks. Nests tend to be just 1-2 inches deep, and while the female parent does most of the nest care, males may offer some small assistance.
Eggs and Young
Chukar eggs are creamy yellow or yellow-white flecked with small brown or purplish spots, and there are 10-21 eggs per brood. A mated pair will raise only one brood per year.
The female parent incubates the eggs for 22-24 days. The young chicks can leave the nest rapidly, in just a few minutes if necessary, but do not fly until approximately two weeks of age.
The chukar is not threatened or endangered, but wild populations can be vulnerable to harsh winters. In many areas, chukars are closely managed as game birds for hunting, and may even be specially bred to be released for a controlled hunting season without harshly impacting native populations.
Tips for Backyard Birders
These are not typical backyard birds, but are readily attracted to reliable water sources or to areas of spilled grain, especially in unexpected areas where released game birds may wander. If chukars are regular backyard guests, they will appreciate cracked corn offered on the ground or in low platform, dish, or tray feeders. Ground bird baths can also help attract chukars.
How to Find This Bird
Visiting suitable rocky habitat and watching for a bird perched on top of a rock as a lookout is the best way to find a chukar. In areas where sightings are common these birds are not difficult to find, though their plumage can blend in remarkably well in desert or canyon habitats. Unexpected sightings of escaped birds can happen almost anywhere.
Explore More Species in This Family
The Phasianidae bird family is home to more than 180 species of quail, francolins, snowcocks, sage-grouse, partridges, pheasants, and turkeys. Some of the more familiar relatives of the chukar, as well as game birds in similar bird families, include:
Be sure to check out our other wild bird fact sheets to learn more about all your favorite species!