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Alectoris chukar (Gray, 1830)
Family: Phasianidae

Species account author: Jamie Fenneman


© Logan Lalonde     (Photo ID #78125)


Distribution of Alectoris chukar in British Columbia.
(Click on the map to view a larger version.)
Source: Distribution map provided by Jamie Fenneman for E-Fauna BC

Species Information

The upperparts, including the back, scapulars, wings, and rump are brownish-grey (greyer on the rump), with dark brown primaries that are visible in flight. The relatively short, square tail is brownish-grey with rufous outer feathers that are generally visible only when the tail is spread. The breast and rear flanks are greyish to brownish-grey and the undertail coverts and belly are rich buff to rufous-buff; the sides and flanks are pale buff with bold, heavy blackish bars, each of which is finely edged with rufous. The crown, nape, and hindneck are greyish to brownish-grey and are separated from the creamy-buff chin and throat by a bold black line that extends from the base of the bill through the eye and onto the rear ear coverts and then wraps around the sides of the throat and onto the lower throat to form a collar; there is a small cinnamon-brown patch within this black line just behind the eye, and there is a pale whitish area above the eyeline. The iris is dark, the orbital ring is bright red, the short bill is bright red, and the legs and feet are duller pinkish-red.

This plumage is held briefly, and by ~4 months of age the plumage is more or less similar to that of the adult. Juveniles are relatively plain buffy-brown overall, with some fine dark and pale speckling or mottling on the upperparts and breast, weak bars on the sides, and flanks, a slightly paler buff throat, and duller bare part colouration (especially the bill and orbital ring, which are paler pinkish).

Total Length: 35-36 cm
Mass: 425-650 g

Source: Christensen (1996); Sibley (2000)



This is a very distinctive species in British Columbia, and is unlikely to be misidentified. The rufous tail feathers, which can easily be seen on a bird that flushes away from the observer, are also shown by the Gray Partridge, which occurs alongside the Chukar in certain areas of the southern Okanagan Valley (e.g., Osoyoos, Richter Pass); however, the size (Chukar larger), facial pattern, overall colouration (browner in Gray Partridge, greyer in Chukar), and pattern of the sides and flanks differ significantly between these two species and should allow for easy identification of all but the most briefly observed individuals.

The characteristic, far-carrying call of the Chukar is a raucous, cackling kakakaka-chuKAR-chuKAR-chuKAR that intensifies and becomes louder towards the end; the latter phrases are sometimes given with three syllables: chuKARaa. This call is usually given by an individual perched conspicuously on a rock outcrop or other prominent perch. It also gives similar raucous, cackling notes periodically while foraging or as a means of communicating among members of a covey. When flushed, members of a covey give a loud, harsh note followed by several softer notes: PITCH-oo-whidoo-whidoo; this call gradually subsides as the birds disappear.

Source: Christensen (1996); Sibley (2000); Madge and McGowan (2002)

Breeding Ecology

The raucous calling that is common in this species is primarily given for territory establishment and is not an important component of courtship. During courtship activities, the male approaches the female and engages in several postures, including head tilting while turning sideways to expose the barred flanks, and circling the female with the head tilted and the flanks exhibited (sometimes with the head bowed and the wings drooped). The male often pecks at the ground during courtship and, immediately prior to copulation, is joined by the female in this behaviour. Pairs form during the early spring (March-April); during drought years, only a certain percentage of the population will form pairs and the rest will remain in non-breeding coveys throughout the breeding season. This species is a monogamous breeder.

The nest is placed on the ground, usually under the shelter of a rock overhang, beneath shrubs such as sagebrush or antelopebrush, or (in more open habitats) beneath overhanging grasses. The nest itself is a shallow scrape (~20 cm wide and ~5 cm deep) that is sparsely lined with dry grasses, leaves, twigs, and occasionally a few feathers.

A single clutch of (6) 10-15 (24) eggs is laid in April or May and is incubated primarily by the female (male may contribute some incubation) for 22-25 days before hatching. A second clutch is occasionally produced in June or July (exceptionally August) following the loss of the first clutch. In some cases, the female will lay two independent clutches that are simultaneously incubated by both parents. The smooth, glossy eggs are pale buff to brownish with fine reddish speckling (often quite dense). Eggs are present in B.C. between early April and late August.

The young are downy and fully precocial upon hatching, and quickly leave the nest and are accompanied by the parents (primarily the female). The colouration of the chicks is creamy-white below (greyer on the breast) and buffy above, with bold parallel blackish streaks on the upperparts and fine blackish streaks on the rear flanks; the head is primarily creamy-buff to pale greyish-buff (browner and often finely dark-speckled on the crown and nape), with a narrow black line behind the eye. The bill is pale brownish and the legs and feet are dull yellowish. After they leave the nest, the young remain as a group accompanied by one or both parents for ~2 weeks, then merge with other family groups to form ‘nurseries’ that are tended by 1-2 females. The young are capable of short flights at only 7 days of age, and by 2 weeks of age they are capable of flying 10-20 metres. These large post-breeding coveys are retained throughout the winter and break up in the following spring as the breeding season commences. The young reach adult size by ~50 days of age. Chicks and partially-grown juvenal birds are present in B.C. between early May and late September.

Source: Cannings et al. (1987); Campbell et al. (1990b); Christensen (1996); Baicich and Harrison (1997); Madge and McGowan (2002).
Foraging Ecology

The Chukar feeds almost exclusively on small seeds and green vegetation (grass, leaves), although it will consume small amounts of insects (ants, beetles, etc.) as well. In British Columbia, the fruits of the introduced Russian-olive tree are particularly favoured when they are available. Foraging occurs on the ground, and many of the seeds in the diet are obtained by scratching the top layer of soil to expose the buried seeds. Foraging activity is greatest in the morning and late afternoon. Coveys include only 4-10 individuals throughout most of the year, but post-breeding aggregations may include 30-50 (or more) birds, including numerous juveniles; this species also aggregates into larger coveys during harsh winter weather conditions as individuals congregate around available sources of food. Foraging coveys move continuously throughout their habitat, with the greatest levels of activity occurring in the morning and late afternoon.

Source: Cannings et al. (1987); Christensen (1996); Madge and McGowan (2002)


The Chukar is characteristic of dry, open, steep slopes and rocky habitats in the arid basins of the south-central interior. It usually occurs in dry grasslands and on sagebrush benches near rock outcrops, talus slopes, canyons, cliffs, or steep clay or silt bluffs. It often occurs along railroad rights-of-way and gravel roadways where they occur near such habitats. Coveys commonly occur near available sources of water, particularly during the summer. This species tends to avoid agricultural areas.

Source: Cannings et al. (1987); Campbell et al. (1990b): Christensen (1996)


Global Range

Native to the Old World, where it is found from southeastern Europe (Greece, Bulgaria) east to northern India, China, and Mongolia. Introduced into North America, where it is found from southern British Columbia south to northern Arizona, occurring west to eastern California, eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington and east to Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Additional introduced populations also occur in Hawaii and New Zealand.
BC Distribution

Uncommon to locally fairly common in the south-central interior. Fairly common in the southern Okanagan Valley (north to Skaha Lake) and uncommon in the lower Similkameen Valley. It is also fairly common in the Thomson Basin and associated lowlands, from the Kamloops area south and west to Lytton. It is uncommon along the Fraser River from the Lytton area north to the Chilcotin River, and is rare in the Nicola Basin (Merritt area).

Small feral populations exist on southeastern Vancouver Island (e.g., Parksville), but these populations are not well established and appear to be sustained by periodic releases. Escapes and released birds are occasionally seen elsewhere across southern British Columbia, but these do not represent established populations.

Source: Campbell et al. (1990b)


Population and Conservation Status

The Chukar was introduced into British Columbia in the mid-1900s in an attempt to establish an established population for hunting purposes, and with the release of over 2,600 individuals at 8 different localities in the early 1950s, a hunting season was opened in 1955. This species continues to exist in relatively robust populations in southern B.C., although the number of birds appears to have declined since the 1960s and its range has contracted slightly in the Okanagan Valley (i.e., formerly occurred regularly north to Summerland, but now confined primarily to areas south of Okanagan Falls). As it is an introduced species, it receives no designation as a species of concern by either provincial (B.C. Conservation Data Centre) or federal (COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada]) bodies.

Source: Cannings et al. (1987); Campbell et al. (1990b)


A total of 14 subspecies of Chukar are recognized throughout its natural range, but most individuals introduced into North America, including those in British Columbia, are of the nominate subspecies A.c.chukar.

Source: Christensen (1996)

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
ExoticSNAExoticNot Listed

BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

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