Phasianidae (Partridge, Grouse, and Quail)
Chukar,Alectoris chukar. (Fig. 11.7) Male length 13 in (33 cm), female length 13 in (33 cm); male weight 21 2/3 oz (614 g), female weight 17 2/3 oz (500 g). Introduced. Common resident from the foothills to at least 10,000 ft (3,050 m) in the Inyo Mountains and 13,400 ft (4,090 m) in the White Mountains. Most numerous between 4,000 and 8,000 ft (1,220 and 2,440 m). Scarce in the northern portion of the region and at very high elevations.
Initially released into California in 1932, this partridge is now widely established in many arid portions of the state. It favors rough and inhospitable canyonsides where scattered clumps of brush and cheatgrass are interspersed with rock outcrops and steep talus slopes. Water from tiny seeps, steadily flowing streams, or tanks must be accessible daily during warm periods and may dictate the local occurrence of birds. Chukars feed primarily on the blades, seeds, and buds of cheatgrass and annuals, although grasshoppers and caterpillars are taken in the spring. Seeds are most important in the summer diet. The birds move continually while feeding, walking up steep boulder faces with agility and skulking across openings. When flushed, the covey explodes into the air and typically heads downhill, alternating rapid wing beats with short glides. Shrill alarm notes accompany the departure of disturbed adults. Foraging adults utter a throaty, resonant chuckling call, which carries for great distances in mountain canyons. Reference: Christensen (1954).
Blue Grouse,Dendragapus obscurus. (Fig. 11.8) Male length 19 in (49 cm), female length 16 in (41 cm); male weight 2 5/8 lb (1,213 g), female weight 1 3/4 lb (803 g). Rare to fairly common, but local, permanent resident in the northern and central White Mountains; recorded between 8,000 and 10,200 ft (2,440 and 3,110 m) elevation. Numbers fluctuate annually. No known records from the Inyo Mountains.
Blue Grouse occur primarily on the east side of the White Mountains, inhabiting upper stream canyons lined with willow and aspen, as well as open Limber Pine forest on adjacent north- and northeast-facing slopes. The diet is well known for populations in the Sierra Nevada and other regions but has been poorly documented in the White Mountains. Spring and summer food in the Sierra Nevada reportedly consists of buds, twigs, catkins, and conifer needles, with fir needles becoming predominant during fall and winter. Because no native firs occur in the White Mountains, it is uncertain what the local grouse eat during those months. However, Limber Pine needles could be an important food. The species supplements its diet with willow leaves in the summer. Blue Grouse leave piles of characteristic droppings on the ground. Each dropping, approximately
1 in (2.5 cm) long and 1/4 in (0.6 cm) in diameter, is slightly curved and composed of tightly stacked, coarse plant material that shears neatly into individual cylinders. Males "boom" from trees during the breeding season, amplifying these hoots by expelling air held in vivid orange neck sacs. Reference: Johnsgard (1973).
Sage Grouse,Centrocercus urophasianus . (Fig. 11.9) Male length 25 in (63 cm), female length 19 in (48 cm); male weight 4 1/4 lb (1,954 g), female weight 2 3/8 lb (1,085 g). Scarce summer resident in the White Mountains between 8,500 and 12,000 ft (2,590 and 3,660 m) elevation, especially in alpine sagebrush north of White Mountain Peak.
Sage Grouse are strictly tied to the sagebrush association, especially on flat or gently rolling terrain. Sage leaves constitute the main diet of adult birds, although herbaceous legumes and grasses are also eaten; chicks feed primarily on insects. The nest is usually well hidden underneath a sage bush. Prior to breeding, males congregate in large arenas or "leks" subdivided into individual territories. Here they conduct elaborate courtship displays for a group of females. The more dominant males typically occupy central territories in the lek and perform most of the matings. After courtship, the two sexes separate until the fall, when flocks are formed. The range and abundance of the Sage Grouse in California have declined dramatically during this century as a result of the devastation of sagebrush habitat by livestock and agriculture. Reference: Wiley (1973).
California Quail,Callipepla californica. (Fig. 11.10) Male length 8 1/2 in (22 cm), female length 9 in (23 cm); male weight 5 5/8 oz (159 g), female weight 5 1/2 oz (155 g). Relatively common resident in the White-Inyo Range; occurs between 3,300 and 8,400 ft (1,010 and 2,560 m), although scarce at higher elevations.
This species occurs in localized areas of favorable habitat near streams and springs. Willows and other riparian vegetation, as well as sagebrush and Pinyon-juniper Woodland on adjacent slopes, are frequented. The quail forage mainly in the drier habitats but prefer to nest and roost under the concealing thicket cover. Seeds of Rabbitbrush and sagebrush make up the bulk of their diet in the Great Basin, although in other regions legumes and annuals are a more important seed source. Grass or legume leaves and the fruits, buds, and catkins of brush and juniper are also eaten. In addition, adults take small quantities of animal food, especially during the spring and summer; chicks subsist mainly on such food for the first month. Nests are typically placed on the ground in tall, dense cover of herbaceous vegetation. The California Quail is highly gregarious except during the breeding season. In the fall and winter, coveys forage together in alleyways through brush or alongside roads and other corridors. The social structure of coveys is strictly organized. Reference: Leopold (1977).
Mountain Quail,Oreortyx pictus. (Fig. 11.11) Male length 10 in (25.5 cm), female length 9 1/2 in (24 cm); male weight 8 1/2 oz (242 g), female weight 7 5/8 oz (218 g). Scarce permanent resident in the White-Inyo Range; current status unclear.
Mountain Quail occur locally in the region on slopes and in canyon bottoms where dense brush is interspersed with open woodland. Sagebrush, Rabbitbrush, and currant within either broken Pinyon-jumper Woodland or Mountain Mahogany are favored. Water is required on a daily basis. Seeds of various perennial plants are taken year-round, with leaves and some fruits, flowers, and insects supplementing the diet. Young chicks subsist primarily on insects. Nests are well concealed under fallen branches, in tall weeds and dense shrubs, or near large, shaded rocks surrounded by thick vegetation. Like other species of quail, Mountain Quail spend the year in coveys except when breeding. Pairs form within coveys while these social groups are intact. In spring, males give a Far-reaching, single inflected whistle that resembles the call of the Northern Pygmy-Owl. Males call frequently in the morning during the early breeding season. This species is highly secretive and prefers to remain hidden in dense brushy cover. In other regions, especially where the birds summer at high elevations, postbreeding coveys are thought to migrate downslope on foot into snow-free, warmer environments. References: Gutiérrez (1980), Miller and Stebbins (1964).