All hail the (not so mighty) chukar!

You can have your eagles and osprey; I'll take the wonderful chukar partridge.

We are fortunate, in our area, to have many magnificent, even noble, specimens of the animal and avian kingdoms close at hand. The chukar partridge, alas, is not one of them.

And yet I have a huge fondness for these hapless birds, which strike me as the feathered equivalent of the shy, awkward, and clumsy kid we all knew in high school; the one who just wanted to get through each day unnoticed, but would then trip over a desk or knock over a stack of books and draw everyone’s attention. The default mode of a chukar seems to be mild panic; not unlike that high school student, who always wore a slightly hunted look, as if wondering from which quarter disaster would strike next.

Now the chukar is a plump and comely bird, in a somewhat “I’m just trying to blend in” sort of way; certainly more attractive than other birds I could name. But its cry! Barbara Hendricks, in her Loon Lake column three weeks ago, noted that while many birds have beautiful songs, others . . . well, don’t (I’m looking at you, magpies). The chukar’s cry—a strangled sort of squawking—makes it sound like a small hen trying to pass a very large egg made up entirely of right angles, and it rises quickly from that mild panic of which I spoke to a full-blown “Get me out of here, it’s the end of the world!” tone.

This is most apparent when a chukar manages, against all odds, to do something out of the ordinary. I know that they fly, but they don’t appear to be entirely comfortable with the process, as if they have to re-learn how to take flight on a daily basis. Now and again, however, one will get itself up onto a neighbouring roof or garage peak, and will sit there for a moment. Then the cries start, rising in volume and intensity; the soundtrack, I like to think, to an interior narration that goes something like this:

“Well, I did it; I’m not sure how, or why, but— wow, yes, it really is a nice view from up here, but gosh, that ground looks a long way down, and I’ll bet it’s hard, I wouldn’t want to fall off—please don’t let me fall off—and . . . how did I get up here again? I can’t remember! And more importantly, how do I get down again? Someone please help me, please, oh I don’t want to die I’m too young what will happen to the children . . .”

They are, it must be said, masters of camouflage. One summer there appeared, from the noise, to be a chukar convention going on in the (then empty) lot beside us, but when I went out on the deck to look nary a chukar could be seen. I must have made a sound, however, for suddenly plump, feathered bodies exploded into motion and headed off in numerous directions before hunkering down again and immediately disappearing from view, and the scene was still and apparently without life. Watching a family of them cross the road is equally interesting; they proceed in an orderly line, but there’s always one chukar that forgets where it’s going and doubles back, then remembers and heads in the original direction, often repeating the process several times.

So you can have your bald eagles and your osprey and your hawks; majestic birds, all of them, beyond a doubt, and deserving of respect. But I am well content with the humble chukar, that most modest of our feathered friends. Just one word of advice to them: keep your feet on the ground.

Barbara Roden

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