Chukar Partridge

(Alectoris chukar)

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Alectoris chukar
Photo by Mare Cirelli

Additional Information

Breeding Season: Begins in April

Breeding Age:

Clutch Size: 12 speckled cream colored eggs

Incubation Period:: 24 days

Description - Male: The Chukar is mostly overall grayish brown with a black band from the eyes, down to below the neck; this band surrounds the white buffy face and throat. The flanks are banded black and white with slight buff tinges.

Description - Female: The sexes are similar, with the female having a smaller knob on the legs than the males. Males also appear to be somewhat larger as well. Both sexes share the bright red bill and legs.

Status in Captivity:

Misc Notes:

Being a bird from a dry climate, Chukar have a few unique, but simple challenges for the bird keeper. Chukar are typically monogamous in the wild during the breeding season, which typically lasts from March through July. During the fall and winter months, birds usually gather in flocks of about 10-20 birds. I have noticed that in a captive setting, many keepers want to produce as many birds as possible and often end up with disastrous results. All too often this leads to frustration and many just give up. I firmly believe that the more we understand about their natural biology, the better the birds will be in our care. Chukar are a wild species with demands of a wild species. As different from a domesticated chicken as your house cat is to a tiger.

The optimal aviary for a Chukar would contain at the minimum of 64 square feet of ground space for two birds. Flooring of the aviary should be well drained with a substrate of sand and gravel. The birds can be particularly hard on planted ground cover, but you can wrap small shrubs and grasses in wire until established enough that the birds cannot destroy them. Height of the aviary varies. I always wanted to walk comfortably inside mine, so would make them at least six and half feet. This allowed me room to move around to clean as well as the opportunity to add "furniture" to the aviary to give the birds enrichment. Large rocks placed in various locations as well as logs and even building a small cliff-like structure that the male would perch and call upon each morning.

Chukar are extremely tough and hardy birds, able to withstand weather extremes in both directions. Very important to allow for good drainage in the aviary, standing water with mud can carry a host of bacteria that is lethal to Chukar. Small Cedar trees (pruned of course) provide a wonderful natural shelter as well as shade. The birds do need a location in the aviary to escape the rain, snow, and direct sunlight, so landscape accordingly. Chukar typically spend the night roosting on the ground rather than on a perch. Observe your birds during the night to find their favorite roosting spot which will allow you to add to this location to protect them from overnight storms. Rarely do the birds seek refuge in a coop, but you can always provide one with dry straw on the coldest nights.

I have been criticized on various internet forums for these types of aviaries. Often with the notion that it is too expensive or impracticable. One cannot repeat this enough - Chukar are a wild species! Their time in captivity is only a fraction of that of domesticated chickens and even guineafowl. Many keepers in the desire to produce and make money often cut corners and go for the easiest options. Thousands of Chukar in the United States live their entire lives in a complete wire cage, all sides, nothing but wire. Yes, the birds lay eggs and even produce young, but what type of life is this? The argument is that the wire flooring prevents disease. True, but so does living in a bubble. The birds can be kept on the ground if you can provide the proper enclosure for them. The birds will show normal behavior, be generally stronger, and certainly have a better quality of life.

Briefly regarding expense on landscaping these aviaries. The only expense, aside from construction costs, was time and gasoline. All materials were collected from the surrounding area including the often invasive Eastern Red Cedar. Only your imagination should limit you.

Chukar should be kept in pairs during the breeding period and typically should be the only ground bird in the aviary as both sexes can become quite aggressive. Chukar should never be kept on the same ground as domesticated fowl. Not only will aggression take place, but Chukar are not immune to many common ailments that afflict the domesticated birds. As with most wild game birds, the larger the aviary the better. With a large size, you could add perching birds, hookbills, or doves to the aviary.

Chukar are versatile breeders in captivity. The hens begin to seek out nesting locations in April. Sites are usually nothing more than a scrape on the ground near a cover source. The clutch consists of about 12 speckled cream colored eggs which take approximately 24 days to hatch. It has been noted that many captive Chukar will not incubate their own eggs, but this is often due to housing and disruption. If eggs are removed for artificial incubation, it is not unusual for a single female to lay as many as 50 eggs per season. In proper settings, the hen will hatch and both sexes will tend the rearing of the chicks which take about 60 days to reach adult size. If another clutch is wanted, the chicks can be removed at about 30 days.

If one is to rear them artificially, the chicks are very active and require lots of room in the brooder. They are prone to cannibalism, so don't overcrowd in the brooder. It is also highly recommended that they be the only species brooded, they will bully other species in the brooder.

The birds will attain the adult plumage by the first winter and are able to produce fertile eggs their first spring. The lifespan of the Chukar in captivity can exceed 10 years in an optimal setting with birds producing chicks until around age 6. However, it is not unheard of for older birds to still produce chicks.

As mentioned, the birds are monogamous in the wild and best results are achieved in captivity if housed as a single pair. There are, and I've seen large operations that will colony breed, often with 50 or more birds in a wire bottomed "breeding coop". There are publications with male to female ratios in such operations, but I refuse to encourage or recommend this type of breeding or housing.

Chukar diets are rather straight forward. The birds, like most fowl, are omnivores. You can sustain your Chukar on a typical game bird crumble with supplemented grains, greens, and even live food such as mealworms, waxworms, and crickets. The chicks need to be on a higher protein crumble, usually at about 26 to 30 % protein. They can be lowered to the maintenance or breeding ration that varies from 12 to 20 % protein when they have become fully feathered. I always made sure that I offered some type of greens at all times of the year. Leaf and romaine lettuce during the winter months, dandelions and clover during spring and summer. Since I had a number of species that I wouldn't breed, I always had plenty of hard-boiled eggs to offer the birds. Apples were offered every now and then, but didn't seem to be a favorite of this species. Watch and learn from your birds. Offer a variety and you can determine what their favorite treats are.

If you are allowing the parents to rear their young, mealworms (not a true worm, larvae of the darkling beetle) are important and it is enjoyable to watch the parents pick and offer the chicks the worms. It is not recommended to feed earthworms or nightcrawlers. These worms are hosts to a number of parasites. If the birds have access to the soil and thus these worms, you will need to use maintenance wormer. Please follow label instructions and veterinary advice when using these medications.

As with all fowl, fresh water is important, but more so with partridge. Make sure the waterer is placed in a location that limits exposure to mud and sunlight.

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Bibliography and Further Reading

  • Grewel, B. 2000. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Local Colour Limited, Hong Kong.
  • Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C., Inskipp, T. 1999. Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Christopher Helm, London; Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
  • Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C., Inskipp, T. 2000. Birds of Nepal. Christopher Helm, London; Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Hayes, LB. 1995. Upland Game Birds: Their Breeding and Care. Leland Hayes, Valley Center, CA.
  • Johnsgard, P.A. 1988. The Quails, Partridges, and Francolins of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
  • Madge, S., McGowan, P. 2002. Pheasants, Partridges, and Grouse. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D., Grant, P.J. 1999. Birds of Europe. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Robbins, G.E.S. 1998. Partridges & Francolins, their Conservation, Breeding & Management. World Pheasant Association.

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