Chukar Transplant on the Northern Front Range
For 90 days out of the year, Colorado sportspeople can hunt chukars, stocky game birds distinguished by their red legs and bills. Often a challenging hunt, chukars predominantly live along the Colorado and Gunnison river drainages. In order to develop chukar hunting along the Front Range, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists will release about 400 wild chukars in northeast Colorado over the next two years. Ultimately, this project aims to establish a self-sustaining huntable population of chukar along the Northern Front Range for Colorado upland bird hunters to enjoy.
Historically, chukars have been transplanted in nearly every county in Colorado, however most of these transplants were either unsuccessful or were not monitored post-transplant and success could not be determined. Therefore, this transplant project will include an extensive monitoring component after transplant.
In August 2014, biologists released 168 wild chukars from Utah into the foothills of the Poudre Canyon near Fort Collins, Colo. Chukars were released in four different locations, which biologists evaluated before transplant to determine habitat suitability and chukar impact on native game or non-game birds.
Before release, biologists banded each chukar with aluminum leg bands. In addition, 60 birds were outfitted with 10-gram necklace radio collars, which will allow biologists to monitor survival during fall, winter and spring. If the 2014 release is deemed successful, biologists will release another 200 birds in 2015 in the same area.
During the summer and fall, chukars feed primarily on seeds of cheatgrass, Russian thistle, rough fiddleneck and redstem filaree. They will also eat seeds of Indian ricegrass, curly dock and mustard, as well as grass blades, stems and buds of a variety of plants, wild onion seeds, grasshoppers and caterpillars.
Chukars inhabit open, rocky, sagebrush-grassland areas on dry mountain slopes and canyons. They also inhabit areas with Mormon tea, bitterbrush, currant and rabbitbrush. In the southern portions of their range, they may be found in saltbush-grassland habitat by generally avoid pinion-juniper climax habitat. During hot weather, they concentrate near water provided by springs, seeps and small perennial and intermittent streams. They will disperse when the surrounding vegetation greens up after a rain. In winter, they need south-facing slopes that are free of deep snow.
Chukar hunting is an extremely challenging but enjoyable hunt. As the saying goes, you hunt chukars “the first time for sport, the rest for revenge.” This is especially true on the Front Range because most of Colorado’s chukar populations live on the Western Slope – until now. Through this project, CPW hopes to establish a huntable population of chukars along the Northern Front Range so that hunters in eastern Colorado can try their hand at hunting this elusive bird.
Chukar hunting season currently begins on September 1 and continues for approximately 90 days through the last day of November. The daily bag is four birds, with a total possession limit of 12. Read the Colorado Small Game brochure for more information on chukar hunting regulations.
To ensure that the newly transplanted birds can reproduce and sustain a viable population, chukar season has been closed in GMUS 9, 19, and 191 for 2014. CPW anticipates that this closure will extend into 2015 with the expectation that another set of transplanted wild birds will arrive in later summer 2015.
Nesting and Young
Research shows that, in Colorado, only a few chukars live longer than two years. As a result, populations are subject to big swings in abundance. During mid-March, birds pair off for mating. Nests are difficult to find. In most cases, they are shallow depressions scratched in the ground and lined with dried grasses and feathers. Typical locations are hidden under shrubs or well concealed by rocks and brush. The female will lay 10 to 20 yellow-white eggs that are spotted or speckled with brown and incubate them for 24 days. Females tend the nest while males leave to form bachelor groups. Only occasionally will a male remain with the female. Upon hatching, the young follow the female who shows them food, but does not feed them. The young can fly short distances in two or three weeks.
Native to Asia, chukars have become established in areas of Colorado and the western U.S., from south central British Columbia to Baja California to northwestern New Mexico. Chukars were introduced in Colorado in 1937. Chukar are in greatest concentration along the Colorado and Gunnison river drainages below 6,600 feet.
Transplant & Monitoring Toolkit
Walk-in Live Traps
Walk-in traps were used in Utah to catch the wild chukars used in this transplant project. During the summer, birds in Utah use wildlife water guzzlers as their source of moisture in the desert. Water is placed in the walk-in traps so that the birds must walk into the wire box enclosure to reach the water source. Once the desired group of chukars is in the walk-in trap, biologists can approach and remove chukar one-by-one to holding in the transport cages.
Biologists used game-farm bird crates to transport and release chukars on the CPW Poudre project. Wild birds caught in Utah were put in these crates for transport by CPW aircraft and trucks to Colorado.
All 168 chukars are marked with uniquely numbered aluminum leg bands. These are commonly used in avian projects; they are lightweight and provide contact information for anyone that might find the remains of one of these chukars.
Sixty chukars were outfitted with a 10-gram, necklace-style radio collars that broadcast a radio signal at a Very High Frequency (VHF) that is unique to each radio. By using the telemetry receiver, the biologist is able to hear the sound made by each collar at each specific frequency. Each collar beats 30 times per minute when the bird is alive. When the collar hasn't moved for 8 hours the signal changes to 60 bpm so mortalities can be detected. The batteries in these collars should last about a year.
Radio Telemetry Antenna & Receiver
Radio telemetry equipment allows biologists to track the location of the birds by listening to the sounds by each radio collar. A field technician will monitor radio-collared chukar 3-4 days a week until spring 2015. Monitoring requires hiking up steep ridgelines to get sufficient elevation to be able to hear the radio signals of marked birds. General locations of live radio signals are recorded and any mortality signals are investigated further.