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A chukar is a fat-bodied game bird that originated in Europe and Asia. Also called the red-legged partridge, the chukar was transported to North America in the early 1900s. Chukars now inhabit the western United States and southern Canada. A ground forager, the chukar feeds mostly on seeds and prefers sloping mountains or hillsides with low-growing vegetation. Some chukars live in flat, arid desert regions and adapt their coloring to match their surroundings. Chukars are growing in popularity as gourmet meat birds.
The birds are in the pheasant family and are similar to quail and grouse. Weighing about a pound and a half (600 grams), both male and female adult chukars are between 13 and 15 inches (34 to 38 cm) long. The female nests on the ground and lays a clutch of a dozen to two-dozen eggs on average, which hatch in about three weeks. Once hatched, the chicks are able to leave the nest and forage for themselves.
The chukar is usually gray and buff-colored with striking markings in black and white. One of the most pronounced marks is the black striping over the eyes that leads down to a V-shape at the throat. The bird's wings typically have bold black and white stripes, while the feet and beaks are orange-red. The color of the legs is most likely the origin of the term "red-legged partridge." Chukars in humid habitats are generally a dark greenish-brown on top and a rich brown beneath, while those in dryer climates are gray on top and buff below—this variation in coloration generally helps chukars to blend in with their habitat.
The birds nest on the ground and primarily eat weed and grass seeds, as well as the buds and flowers of low-growing vegetation. Chukars sometimes eat insects as well. They generally prefer to inhabit sloping terrain such as foothills or steep rocky mountainsides. The birds use rocks and shrubs as cover from bad weather and predators and to hide their nesting sites. Chukars are reported as being extremely adept at finding water, even traveling into mine shafts or tunnels for as little as a few drops.
The chukar is not an endangered species. In addition to thriving in many environments throughout the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and Canada, chukars are raised commercially for the gourmet food market. The meat of the chukar is said to resemble quail in its taste and texture.
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