Lately I have been seeing more Chukars (Alectoris chukar) than I have through the winter when the Rough-legged Hawks were in the area in large numbers. Rough-legged Hawks primarily eat Lemmings on their breeding grounds and vole when they are not but they will also eat rabbits, ground squirrels and birds year round. So perhaps with fewer Roughies the Chukars feel safer to forage more out in the open. I thought I would share a few older images along with some taken this past week.
Chukars are not native to North America, they were introduced as game birds and in some areas they have thrived, one of those locations is Antelope Island State Park in northern Utah. Chukars in the western United States can be found in various habitats including wide open grassland prairies, steep slopes up to 8,200 feet in elevation, brushy canyons, hillsides with loose rocks and boulders and in amongst low bushes and on the island I often spot them in Sagebrush. I simply adore the spicy, astringent aroma of Sagebrush.
Chukars cluck like chickens so there are occasions when I hear them coming before I see them. With their pale buffy, tan and grey coloration they can blend in very easily with their habitat, even the black stripes on their flanks can be mistaken for shadows in the grasses.
I often call Chukars “Rock Hoppers” because in the spring I see them hopping from the ground on to the tops of rocks and boulders to call. Other times the Chukars on top of the rocks appear to be sentinel birds, there to warn the other foraging birds of danger from predators. Even on the top of rocks and boulders they can be hard to spot, thankfully I have excellent long distance vision which usually serves me well because frequently I see birds long before anyone else.
These birds do stand out well against snow and blue bird skies, though it is not often that I find them in those conditions. I am very fond of the series of images I took along with the frame above, the Chukar looks vibrant against the snow covered rocks and the clear blue of the sky.
The grasses have begun to push green shoots from the ground here and the Chukars are calling more often from the tops of the rocks and I have witnessed a few skirmishes between the males. They will be nesting before too long.