Sheila Devine of Norwalk had an odd — and rather rare — bird visit recently, one I hadn’t heard about in many years.
“This bird landed on my patio and we don’t know what it is,” she wrote in a note accompanying a picture. “It’s the size of a small chicken and was not afraid of my crazy dog, barking from the French doors inside.”
Although too small to reproduce here, her picture made it clear: Sheila saw a Chukar, a fowl that came here literally to die.
Chukars are a kind of partridge native to western Asia, including such places as Turkey and Afghanistan — it’s the national bird of Pakistan. Some years ago, hunters decided that, although the meat doesn’t taste very good, the bird’s flashy looks and fast flight made the Chukar a great game species to introduce to North America.
Introduction started with private hunting preserves, especially in the West, but eventually, even states began stocking their parklands with Chukars. I can remember an announcement in the 1970s that the State of Connecticut was stocking Chukars in various parks so that hunters could shoot them. All of a sudden, quite a few of these beautiful birds began showing up in the state, confusing thousands of birdwatchers. I remember walking to work one day along the Main Street of Ridgefield — a pretty busy place — and seeing a Chukar on a front lawn.
However, sightings of Chukars began to dwindle and it’s been at least 25 years since I have heard anyone mention the species. The Christmas Bird Counts in Connecticut spotted 26 of them in 1977 — apparently their year of introduction, but by 1983 only one was seen, and none since.
So I was quite surprised to see the picture Sheila sent and recognize what it was. Even though I had not seen one in decades, the few I saw back in the 70s were apparently unforgettable.
I checked the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s wildlife website and could find no indication that the state stocks its hunting lands with Chukars anymore (it does do a lot of pheasant stocking). The Chukars stocked back in the 1970s probably did not establish any local populations so the one Sheila saw must have been an escaped domesticated Chukar, one kept as a yard — or estate — “pet.”
Frank McBrearity of New Canaan updates us on the “new developments in the springtime avian tournament in my backyard.
“As you will recall the New Canaan Grackles arrived early in the season, and quickly dominated play. The many contenders soon retreated to the tree lines to tend their wounds and crow about the Grackles’ rowdy behavior.
“In the aftermath of this embarrassment, the Avian Athletic Union (AAU) met somewhere in deep secrecy and decided to respond in kind. Details of the AAU conference are just now fluttering out, but the results are quite dramatic. The AAU created a merged coalition of smaller, but aggressive teams, and as a result a new team arrived in our backyard stadium — Woodpeckers United. (A T-shirt is in the works.)
“Led by a strong crew of Red Bellied, swift Hairy, clever Downy, and supported by the Pileated coaches on the stumps below, Woodpeckers United confronted the enlarged Grackles team in mid-May. Burdened by hubris and gluttony, the New Canaan Grackles were caught completely by surprise. After several day-long contests, Woodpeckers United sent the Grackles flying.
“Out of the blue, the Jays returned seemingly to claim participation in the blowout, but were quickly derided as loudmouth latecomers; all squawk and no action.
“Red is now the dominant color in our avian playground these days, and Woodpeckers United seems to enjoy friendly, respectful competition from the Cardinals, Finches, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks and others that fly in and out of the games.
“The Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds returned to our feeder on May 26 at 9:13 am. Soon thereafter we spotted the first Gray Catbird, but we suspect their team has been in the stadium for some time. Their varied music has been overshadowed by the robins, which have been especially vocal this springtime. A pair of House Wrens have started a family in our small birdhouse, as they have for several years. The bird team that is missing is the Carolina Wren, usually a regular participant in our avian league. Our pair departed when the Grackles arrived. We miss their affable behavior and distinctly enjoyable music.”
Arthur Butler Sanctuary/Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch field trip, Sunday, July 8, Audubon Greenwich, at Arthur Butler Sanctuary, 261 Chestnut Ridge Road, Bedford Corners RSVP, 203-869-5272 x239, greenwich.audubon.org.
New Jersey Meadowlands, including a pontoon boat tour, Tuesday, July 24, 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. $15 cash for the boat tour, Bedford Audubon, depart Bylane Farm, 35 Todd Rd., Katonah at 8:30; register at [email protected], 914-519-7801, bedfordaudubon.org
Kids Butterfly & Bird Hike, Saturday, July 28, 10 to 11:30 a.m., Aspectuck Land Trust, at Trout Brook Valley Orchard, Easton, visit www.aspetucklandtrust.org. To reserve, [email protected]
Copyright 2012 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] gmail.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.