Chukars are stocky, ground-dwelling members of the pheasant family with short, rounded wings. Males and females are similar in appearance with a short, thick, red bill, red eye-ring, white belly, and red legs and feet. They have a black band above the bill that extends through the eye and across the upper neck, and a buff face and throat enclosed by a black necklace. Their outer tail feathers are rufus and are visible only in flight. They have black bars on pale flanks and a blue-gray crown, nape, breast, and back with a brownish suffusion on the back. Immature birds are similar to adults. They grow to a length of 13 to 15.5 inches. Males are larger and average a weight of 21 to 26 ounces; females weigh between 16 to19 ounces. Chukars are heard more often than they are seen. They have a "rally" or assembly call to regroup scattered members of the covey, a series of slowly repeated then rapid chuck notes that sound like per-chuck or chuckara. They also utter a shrill whitoo! of alarm from the ground or when flushed or held in the hand. Other names for chukars are: chuckar, chuckor, Indian Hill partridge and chukar partridge
Range: Chukars are native to Eurasia and have been widely introduced into North America. They are established locally from south central British Columbia to central and eastern Montana south to Baja California, southern Nevada, northwestern New Mexico, and west-central Colorado. Chukars were introduced in Colorado in 1937. Attempts to establish self-sustaining populations succeeded best in the canyons and hills of west central Colorado in Montrose, Delta, Mesa and Garfield counties. Greatest concentrations are along the Colorado and Gunnison river drainages below 6,600 feet. There are also indications of a resident population in southwest Colorado in Montezuma County. Because game farms and recreational bird hunting clubs raise and release them, chukars can turn up almost anywhere.
Habitat: Chukars inhabit open, rocky, sagebrush-grassland areas on dry mountain slopes and canyons. They also inhabit areas with Mormon tea, bitterbrush, currant and rabbitbrush. In the southern portions of their range, they may be found in saltbush-grassland habitat but generally avoid pinion-juniper climax habitat. During hot weather, they concentrate near water provided by springs, seeps and small perennial and intermittent streams. They will disperse when the surrounding vegetation greens up after a rain. In winter, they need south-facing slopes, free of deep snow.
Diet: During the summer and fall, they feed primarily on seeds of cheatgrass, Russian thistle, rough fiddleneck, and redstem filaree. They will also eat seeds of Indian ricegrass, curly dock, and mustard as well as grass blades, stems and buds of a variety of plants, wild onion seeds, grasshoppers and caterpillars.
Reproduction: Research shows that, in Colorado, only a few chukars live longer than two years. As a result, populations are subject to big swings in abundance. During mid-March birds pair off for mating. Nests are difficult to find. In most cases they are shallow depressions scratched in the ground and lined with dried grasses and feathers. Typical locations are hidden under shrubs or well concealed by rocks and brush. The female will lay 10 to 20 yellow-white eggs that are spotted or speckled with brown and incubate them for 24 days. Pairs produce only brood per year, but will persistently re-nest to succeed at producing young. Females tend the nest while males leave to form bachelor groups. Only occasionally will a male remain with the female. Broods come off the nest from late May to mid-June. Upon hatching, the young follow the female who shows them food, but does not feed them. The young can fly short distances in two to three weeks. Families join in large groups in the late summer.
For more information, see the Natural Diversity Information Source species profile.