Fourteen subspecies of Alectoris chukar are currently recognized. Populations in North America are thought to derive from an Indian subspecies, A. c. chukar, though several subspecies have probably intermixed. The native distribution ranges across mountainous areas of the Middle East and Asia from eastern Greece and southeastern Bulgaria through Asia Minor east to Manchuria China. The chukar has been successfully introduced to North America, Hawaii and New Zealand as a game species. In North America, successful populations have established themselves in mountainous, rocky, arid areas throughout the western states and the current distribution is centered around the Great Basin area, including Nevada, western Utah, southwestern Idaho, northeastern California, and southeastern Oregon. In the east, game farm birds are released for hunting, but successful populations have not established themselves (Christensen 1996; Del Hoyo 1994).
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); australian (Introduced ); oceanic islands (Introduced )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
America and is locally established from south-central British Columbia
south through eastern Washington, Idaho, and central and eastern Montana
to Baja California Norte, southern Nevada, Utah, and eastern Colorado.
Small populations of uncertain status have been reported from Arizona,
New Mexico, western South Dakota, and southern Alberta [4,8].
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
3 Southern Pacific Border
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Occurrence in North America
Global Range: Native to Eurasia. Introduced and resident in North America, from British Columbia, northern Idaho, central and eastern Montana south to northern Baja California, southern Nevada, northern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and south-central Colorado. Also Hawaii (established on all main islands except Oahu) (AOU 1983).
Alectoris chukar is a medium-sized partridge. Males (510-800g) are slightly larger than females (450-680g) in length and mass. Plumage pattern is similar for both sexes and distinctive among game birds of North America. Chukars are gray-brown above with a buff belly. A dark black line across the forehead, eyes, and down the neck contrasts the white throat from the gray head and breast. Flanks are prominently barred black and white-chestnut and the outer tail feathers are chestnut. Bill, margins of eyelids, legs and feet are corral pink to deep red or crimson. Both sexes can have a small tarsal spur, but usually this is characteristic of males. Juveniles are smaller and are mottled brown and gray, with only slight brown barring on flanks. In its native habitat, coloring can vary geographically; birds in more arid areas tend to be grayer and paler (Christensen 1996; Del Hoyo 1994; National Geographic Society 1999).
Range mass: 510 to 680 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 36 cm
Weight: 619 grams
Habitat and Ecology
Alectoris chukar can be found in North America throughout the west in steep, mountainous, rocky locations in mixed habitat types. The Great Basin area of desert shrub is representative of their preferred habitat; climate is arid to semiarid, water is generally available from scattered sources, and temperature varies. The grazed and disturbed public lands provide plentiful grasses and seeds with scattered shrubs while the rocky terrain provides cover. In North America, such areas are generally inaccessible and not near cultivated land, though they will use such areas when available. Unsuccessful attempts to introduce the chukar into other areas of North America suggest that they are already established in most suitable habitat types (Christensen 1996).
Comments: Rocky hillsides, mountain slopes with grassy vegetation, open and flat desert with sparse grasses, and barren plateaus (AOU 1983). In North America, prefers rocky slopes in sagebrush-grassland communities where water is available. In North America, nests usually in sagebrush-grasslands on slopes of hills, on the ground, near the cover of a rock, shrub, or clump of grass, in a shallow depression lined with vegetation, leaves, and feathers.
Chukars use rocky slopes for shade and escape cover. The hottest part
of the day is usually spent in shady cover . They roost on the
ground beneath sagebrush or junipers and in the shelter of rock
outcrops. They also roost in open rocky places; dense brush cover is
not required and is probably avoided . Bohl  described chukar
roosting cover in New Mexico as follows: (1) sides of bare rocks or on
the sides of mesas, halfway up or higher, among rocks, vegetation, or in
open, (2) on the ground in open grassy flats at the tops of mesas with
junipers or rocks within 15 feet (4.6 m), and (3) under junipers at the
tops of mesas. Chukars roost in coveys, either scattered or in
tail-to-tail formations .
Nesting Cover: Chukar nests are depressions scratched in the ground and
lined with leaves and feathers, usually well camouflaged under shrubs or
among rocks [3,4].
The chukar inhabits open, rocky, dry mountain slopes, hillsides, or
canyon walls from below sea level to 12,000 feet (3,660 m) elevation
. Steep slopes appear to be preferred . Slope grade is usually
over 7 percent with a rise of at least 200 feet (60 m) . The chukar
is also found on open and flat deserts with sparse grasses and on barren
plateaus [4,16]. Nesting habitat is similar to foraging habitat: dry,
rocky slopes with open, brushy cover. In California, nesting chukars
and chukar broods are normally found within 2 miles (3.2 km) of water .
Associated Plant Communities
In North America, the key plant species for chukar habitat is cheatgrass
(Bromus tectorum). The widespread dominance of cheatgrass has made
possible the successful introduction and establishment of chukars in the
Great Basin . The chukar inhabits sagebrush (Artemisia
spp.)-grasslands, and areas vegetated with ephedra (Ephedra spp.),
bitterbrush (Purshia spp.), currant (Ribes spp.), and rabbitbrush
(Chrysothamnus spp.) . In the southern portion of its range, the
chukar may be found in saltbush (Atriplex spp.)-grasslands , and
salt-desert shrubland . Chukars generally avoid climax pinyon
(Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) habitat , although scattered
pinyons and junipers appear to be acceptable .
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon - juniper
241 Western live oak
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K040 Saltbush - greasewood
K055 Sagebrush steppe
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Chukars are generally opportunistic and forage on vegetation, including grass and forb seeds, green grass, forb leaves, and some shrub fruits, according to relative abundance and seasonal availability. On western rangelands, primary foods are seeds and foliage of introduced grasses and various forbs in the sagebrush community. Cultivated grains are used when available, but chukar habitat in North America is generally not near agricultural land. In Hawaii, different foods are available, but native shrub fruits and introduced herbaceous plants are still important. Young chicks primarily eat insects. Adults do not eat a significant number of insects, but are known to take locusts when available. All types of water sources are utilized by chukars and tend to dictate distribution during the hot summer months; they will stray farther from water in the winter when green vegetation is available (Christensen 1996; Del Hoyo 1994; Cole et al. 1995).
Animal Foods: insects
Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: herbivore (Granivore )
- Cole, F., L. Loope, A. Medeiros, J. Raikes, C. Wood. 1995. Conservation implications of introduced game birds in high elevation Hawaiian shrubland. Conservation Biology, 9: 306-313.
Comments: Feeds primarily on seeds and leaves. Also eats some fruits and insects.
During the breeding season, chukars feed in pairs. For the rest of the
year feeding occurs in coveys, usually en route to watering areas .
Coveys are usually about 20 birds; infrequently as many as 40 or more
birds will form a covey . Foraging occurs in early morning and late
In summer and fall the bulk of chukar diets is composed of cheatgrass
seeds [4,15]. Seeds of Russian-thistle (Salsola spp.), rough fiddleneck
(Amsinckia retrorsa), cutleaf filaree (Erodium cicutarium), Indian
ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides), curly dock (Rumex crispus), wild onion
(Allium spp.) and mustards (Brassica spp.) are also consumed [4,7].
After autumn rains cause grasses to green up, chukars consume large
amounts of grass blades and basal shoots [3,24]; and the bulbs, stems,
leaves, and buds of a variety of plants including dandelion (Taraxacum
officinale), woodlandstar (Lithophragma spp.), and shepherd's purse
(Capsella bursa-pastoris) [4,8]. Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) and
hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) fruits are consumed during summer. A variety
of forb and shrub seeds or fruits are consumed during the winter .
Additional items reported for chukar diets in New Mexico include early
spring greens, alfalfa (Medicago spp.) leaves, seeds of Johnsongrass
(Sorghum halepense), grama (Bouteloua spp.), and other mountain grasses,
and skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata) fruits . Chukars do not utilize
legume seeds to any great degree, but do consume leaves of alfalfa,
clover (Trifolium spp.), and sweetclover (Melilotus spp.) . The diet
of young chukars includes a high proportion of insects; adult birds may
consume as much as 15 percent by volume. Animal foods consist primarily
of grasshoppers, caterpillars, crickets, ants, and various insect eggs
For healthy chukar populations in areas with adequate cover, losses to
predators are probably not significant. In most areas, rodents,
cottontails (Silvilagus spp.), hares (Lagopus spp.), and small birds
outnumber chukars and thus receive higher predator pressure than chukars
Nest Predators: Known predators of chukar nests include magpie (Pica
pica), ravens (Corvus spp.), and various ground predators including
gopher snake (Pituophis spp.) .
Predators of adult chukars may include coyote (Canis latrans), bobcat
(Lynx rufus), feral house cat (Felis spp.), gray fox (Urocyon
cinereoargenteus), skunks (Conepatus spp. and Mephites spp.), badger
(Taxidea taxus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), rock squirrel (Spermophilus
variegatus), ringtail (Bassiriscus astutus), mountain lion (Felis
concolor), coati (Nasua nasua), Mexican wolf (Canis lycaon), snakes,
golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus),
prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus), sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter
striatus), Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii), great horned owl (Bubo
virginianus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), northern goshawk
(Accipiter gentilis), Mexican goshawk (Asturina plagiata), zone-tailed
hawk (Buteo albonotatus), aplomodo falcon (Falco femoralis), and ravens
(Corvus spp.) .
The chukar is a popular game bird: A harvest of over 600,000 birds in
one hunting season was estimated for the United States in a 1981
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
In favorable habitat density may reach levels of 1 bird per 4 ha (Bureau of Land Management, no date). In late summer family groups may join and form larger groups. Males reportedly may leave female during incubation and spend summer with other males.
Habitat-related Fire Effects
Chukars inhabit deteriorated sagebrush-grasslands, saltbush-grasslands,
or deserts, mainly where cheatgrass is the dominant herb. Any habitat
modification that favors cheatgrass probably favors chukar populations,
given adequate water source and brushy and rocky cover. Cheatgrass
increases with fire, drought, overgrazing, and other disturbances .
Cheatgrass creates a fine, continuous fuel load which increases a
region's susceptibility to fire. Fires occur earlier in the growing
season and with greater frequency than in noncheatgrass areas, thus
accelerating range degradation and maintaining cheatgrass .
Timing of Major Life History Events
Chukars exhibit altitudinal migration, moving from higher elevations to
lower terrain during heavy snows. They may also move onto south-facing
slopes to escape inclement weather .
Chukars breed monogamously; pairing occurs from February to March or
April depending on latitude [3,13]. In New Mexico, nesting apparently
begins in April, with egg laying commencing in May; in Washington, the
average beginning date for egg laying is about April 20 . Males
appear to defend females rather than territory ; this finding is in
dispute, however . Males often desert the female after egg-laying;
in early fall males rejoin the brood during covey formation. Coveys are
formed by one or more broods [3,9], often shortly after hatching .
Clutch: Eggs are laid at a rate of one per day to one per 2 days .
Clutch size ranges from 10 to 20 eggs, with an average of 15 .
Clutch size is greatly reduced in drought years; in extreme drought,
breeding may not occur at all . Double brooding (production of two
consecutive broods in one season) was reported from captive birds, and
is suspected to occur in wild birds . Renesting following clutch
loss is normal .
Incubation: The incubation period is typically 24 days. The precocial
young leave the nest shortly after hatching [3,12,24].
Development: Individual flight attempts are usually made by about 2
weeks of age and as early as 10 days after hatching , brood flights
(where the entire brood makes a flight together) occur by 3 weeks of
age, and by 4 weeks of age the chicks have formed flight habits similar
to those of adult chukars. The brood and the adult female remain near
each other .
Life History and Behavior
Chukars use a number or vocalizations in interactions that are divided into three categories: alarm social contact, agonistic, and sexual. The most common call is a low chuck, chuck, chuck used by both sexes that changes gradually to a chukar chukar and can be heard from long distances, hence the name chukar. Communication presumably also occurs through visual cues.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Other Communication Modes: duets
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Most foraging activity occurs in mid-morning and sometimes into afternoon. In hot weather may be inactive near water at midday (Bureau of Land Management, no date).
Chukars are monogamous. Pairs form in mid-March after a male performs a courtship display involving a head-tilt and a showing of his barred flanks. Both begin to call and participate in a "tidbitting display" pecking at various objects. During drought seasons, when food is scarce, breeding may be restricted to a few birds. Males guard the female from access by other males(Christensen 1996; Del Hoyo 1994).
Mating System: monogamous
Nests are simple scrapes, sometimes lined with grass or feathers, in rocky or brushy areas. They are difficult to find and are not well studied. Clutch sizes vary with site and environmental condition between seven and twenty one. Incubation lasts approximately 24 days and is usually a female activity. Hatching can occur from May until August, depending on the success of the first clutch. Broods average around 10.5 chicks, but fluctuate. Young are precocial, or highly developed upon hatching, and are capable of flight within a few weeks. They reach adult size in 12 weeks. Males are thought to remain until chicks are reared, though some are reported to leave after clutch completion and regroup with other males. Much remains to be learned about the reproductive habits of the chukar.
Breeding interval: Chukars breed once yearly depending on environmental conditions.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs from April to July in North America.
Range eggs per season: 7 to 21.
Average eggs per season: 10.5.
Average time to hatching: 24 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Young are cared for by their mother and perhaps father until they reach independence. Young are precocial, they fly within a few weeks of hatching and reach adult size by 12 weeks old.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; precocial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female)
- Christensen, C. 1996. Chukar: Alectoris chukar.. Pp. 1-20 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of Noth America (0):258. Philedelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philedelphia.
- Del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot, J. Sargatal. 1994. Alectoris Chukar. Pp. 485-486 in Handbook of the birds of the world, vol. 2: New world vultures to guinea fowl. Barcelona: Lynx Edicons.
Clutch size is about 8-15. Incubation by female lasts 22-23 days (some authorities state male may incubate 1st clutch while female lays a 2nd). Nestlings are precocial. Young are almost full-size at 84 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Alectoris chukar
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Alectoris chukar
Public Records: 12
Specimens with Barcodes: 13
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Least Concern (LC)
- Least Concern (LC)
- Least Concern (LC)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)