A large part of our industry, especially here at Lion Country Supply, is focused on upland game bird hunting and training. With that said, I thought it might be interesting to briefly discuss the different species of game birds located in North America. Depending on which part of the country you live in, you may be familiar with these game birds, but it might also be the first time hearing about some of these species. One common theme I found while researching for this article was the unfortunate issue of population decline across the board. It’s important that we keep this in mind and look for ways that we can help ensure that these species stay around for future generations.
The grouse has a vast array of different sub-species broken down by their habitat. These range from the Sage Grouse, Prairie Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Prairie-Chickens, Forest Grouse, and Ptarmigan. Sage Grouse include the Greater Sage-Grouse and Gunnison Sage-Grouse, both of which are commonly found in sagebrush ecosystems within North America. The Sharp-tailed Grouse group contains the Alaska Sharp-tailed, Columbian Sharp-tailed, Northwestern Sharp-tailed, Northern Sharp-tailed, Plains Sharp-tailed, and Prairie Sharp-tailed. Historically, the Sharp-tailed Grouse group occupied 21 states, but has since been reduced to only being found in 15 states, mostly northern rocky mountain regions in the United States, most parts of Canada, and Alaska. Prairie-Chickens include the Great Prairie Chicken and the Lesser Prairie Chicken; these will be discussed in their own selection below. The Forest Grouse group includes the Spruce Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, and Sotty Grouse. These grouse species can be found in 38 different states and all of Canada. Some species of the Forest Grouse group, like the Ruffed Grouse found here in Pennsylvanian, have seen their populations plummet. This is especially true since 2000s, forcing states’ game commissions to begin reducing hunting seasons, bag limits, and closures of hunting seasons in some cases. The Ptarmigan group consists of the Rock Ptarmigan, Willow Ptarmigan, and White-tailed Ptarmigan. The White-tailed Ptarmigan is the smallest grouse in North America, averaging around 12 to 16 inches. Ptarmigans are found in the Alpine regions of the northwest, but are more common in Canada and Alaska.
Chukars were brought to North America from the Middle East and southern Asia. The Chukar can be found in the central parts of the United States and on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, as well as Hawaii. The Chukar is also a very common stocked game bird in other areas of the United States, like here in Pennsylvania. However, the Chukar is not consider a game bird in Pennsylvania and there is no official season or restrictions in place. Chukars are generally 14-15 inches long and weigh around 20 ounces. Chukars often live in inhospitable areas. They are fast flyers and even faster runners, often running rather than flying when disturbed.
Pheasants, like Chukars, were brought to North America from Asia in the late 1800s. The common pheasant, known as the Ring-necked Pheasant, is one of the world’s most hunted game bird. In South Dakota alone, there is an estimated population of 7 million pheasants and an estimated 12 million total across the United States. Pheasants, even though they are non-native, are still considered a game bird and have restricted hunting seasons unlike Chukars in some states. A male Ring-neck can be as long as 2.9 feet and weigh up to 2.6 pounds.
There are seven species of woodcock, but only one is found in the United States, being the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). Woodcock spend most of their day in the leaf litter of the forest floors, where their camouflage keeps them well hidden; so much so that a lot of hunters might walk right past them, only for them to flush out behind the hunters. Woodcock use their long bill to probe around the soil for earthworms. Woodcock are best known for their evening display flights, where the males fly straight up 200-350 feet into the air and fly down in a zigzag pattern while chirping. Another interesting fact about the Woodcock involves their eye placement and sight. Their eyes sit high and near the back of their skull. This gives them the ability to look behind them while probing the ground. The population of American Woodcock is estimated around 5 million, but has been decreasing around 1% per year for the last few decades, mostly due to habitat loss to roads and urban development.
North America is home to 6 species of Quail. These six include the California Quail, Mountain Quail, the Gambel’s Quail, Montezuma Quail, Scaled Quail, and the Northern Bobwhite Quail. The Mountain Quail is the largest of the Quail species with the Montezuma Quail being the smallest. The Bobwhite Quail gets its name from the sound of its call, which sounds like they are whistling “bob, bob, white”. Like many other birds in this article, the Quail numbers have been falling sharply over the years. This is mostly believed to be due to predators, changes in farming practices, changes in forest management, and other major habitat changes.
The Greater Prairie Chicken and the Lesser Prairie Chicken are actually members of the grouse family but are distinct enough that they are often not referenced as a grouse by most hunters. The Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupid) was once a widespread game bird ranging from the northeast (Heath Hen) to southeast Texas (Attwater’s prairie-chicken), and mid-western United States. Unfortunately, the Heath Hen is completely extinct and the Attwater’s prairie-chicken is on the edge of extinction. The Lesser Prairie-Chicken is found in its native ranges of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. In recent years, it has been argued that this bird should be added to the Endangered Species Act, as their numbers have had massive drops in the last decade. In 2013, it was estimated that there could have been as little as 17,616 birds, down from the once millions in population. This population drop is due to its range being greatly reduced and fragmented. Both types of birds have their population decreasing, mostly due to the conversion of their native ranges into farms and croplands. Recent droughts have also played a factor in their numbers declining.
The Grey Partridge, also known as the Hungarian Partridge, was introduced to North American from Europe in 1790s and is mostly found in the northern prairies. They can be found in coveys most of the year and live in tall grass and farmland. During the winter months when the ground is covered in snow, the Partridge will borrow into the snow to reach the ground where they will eat seeds and insects. Partridge grow to about the size of a quail, which is about 12.5 inches long and weigh a little less than a pound. The population of Grey Partridges in the United States has declined 2 to 3 percent every year since 1960s. This decline is mostly due to changes in farming practices and the use of chemicals on farming crops.
Without game birds, much of our industry wouldn’t exist and the exciting sport of upland hunting dogs would fade away. I think it is important for all of us to keep in mind our effects on the habitats of these birds, whether it be farming practices, water management, urbanization, and forest management. All of these practices are affecting the population and habitat of these game birds.
If you enjoyed this article that briefly went over the different game birds found in North America and would like to see more focused, in-depth articles on each of the different game birds, let us know in the comments.
What game birds are found in your neck of the woods?
As always, thank you for reading and we hope you found the information useful.
- Michael Cassatt, LCS Director of Marketing
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