By Karin Dates, Volunteer
The Peacock House at West Place is home to more than just our five peacocks. They share the space with three pheasants (a Golden Pheasant, a Lady Amherst Pheasant, and a Ring-necked Pheasant) and four Chukar Partridges. This eclectic group of exotic birds is the first to greet visitors to West Place, and we often get questions about the partridges. If you've ever wondered about these short, plump birds, continue reading for all the particulars on our partridges.
Chukar Partridges are native to the Middle East and southern Asia. In fact, the Chukar is the national bird of both Pakistan and Iraq. They were initially introduced from Pakistan as game birds in the late 1800s, and with additional introductions between the 1930s and 1970s, they have established wild populations primarily in western North America and, believe it or not, six of the eight main Hawaiian islands. So how did four Chukar's arrive at West Place in Rhode Island?
We've had many partridges over the years and they are happy little birds that keep things lively and entertaining. Of the four current partridges, Beaty (formerly known as Beatrice) was the first to arrive. He was raised for hunting and when he was released, he ended up in someone's backyard. As a non-native bird, Beaty would not have survived the winter so we brought him to West Place. He was soon joined by Coppo, one of the first animals transferred to us from the Wild Bird Fund (WBF) in New York City. If you think surviving in the wild is tough, try the mean streets of The Big Apple! Coppo was weak and unable to fly when she was found, but the WBF rehabilitated her and sought a permanent home for her. She and Beaty hit it off right away and it was great to hear their cute sounds and noises.
Late in the summer of 2021, the Wild Bird Fund transferred another Chukar who was found dodging traffic on a main street in NYC. Chuki, as she became known, took a little longer to warm up to Beaty and Coppo, and she still likes to hide in her secret nesting spots inside and outside of the Peacock House. To round out the bunch, our fourth partridge was brought to us by a concerned and compassionate resident of Brooklyn, NY, who found the young bird on Flatbush Avenue. She named the bird Parti and cared for her for several weeks before reaching out to West Place and bringing her to us. We renamed her Brooklyn in honor of her finder, and she needed a little extra care and attention during her first months with us. While still getting to know the other partridges, Brooklyn would often perch on the backs of peacocks and even our volunteers!
So what makes a Chukar a Chukar? Also known as Chukas, these small, sandy brown birds have short legs and a small round head. A black mask covers their eyes and continues down to meet on their throat like a necklace. They have bold black and white stripes on their sides, and their light coloring really offsets the bright red beak, at the same time providing excellent camouflage in the rocks and cliffs. They prefer dry rocky regions, so water sources are a commodity in their wild habitats.
Chukars rarely fly, saving those special occurrences for emergencies. Allaboutbirds.org, a site sponsored by the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University, describes the Chukar's preferred method of travel: "It runs and scampers up steep terrain with the agility and speed of a mountain goat." Hunters have actually nicknamed them "devil bird" for their ability to maneuver on rough terrain, making it a challenge to hunt.
How does West Place care for Chukars? In the wild, Chukar Partridges subsist on a mainly vegetarian diet. The adult birds eat leaves and seeds of annual and perennial grasses, and they also enjoy various seeds such as sunflower and pinyon pine. Chicks are fed mainly insects (if I was forced to eat insects as a child, there’s a good chance I'd become a vegetarian, too!) At West Place, we feed our picky peacocks six different types of food. Much of what they eat overlaps with a Chukar's diet, so our band of partridges enjoys a variety of seeds, dried worms, game bird crumble, and plenty of fresh water. They also have access to the outdoor pen where they can forage for additional treats in the grass. When Brooklyn first arrived, we were concerned that she was not getting the proper nutrition and would have to compete with 11 other birds for food. We set up a hanging bird feeder filled with game bird crumble (high in protein) and taught her how to find it and eat from it. We used to be able to tell Brooklyn apart from the others because she looked a little scraggly, but today she is healthy, happy, and nearly indistinguishable from the others.
There are several species of partridge and quail that resemble the Chukar, but in our opinion there are none that can match the personality and playfulness of our partridge family.
You can sponsor any of our Chukar Partridges for just $10/month. Your sponsorship covers the costs associated with food and supplements, basic preventative care, and enrichment. You'll also provide budget relief that allows us to continue rescuing animals in need.