Monday, February 20, 2017

Pairing birds and training

There must be a lot of stuff coming out about people in the field while birds are starting to pair up because while I was on the mountain yesterday I got four comments about the subject and two messages left on my phone. If you don't want to read my bunch of B.S. on the subject you can stop here knowing I think that not being out there training your dog or just hiking because the birds are pairing up and courting is a bunch of hog wash.

Once again I'm compelled to say that I definitely am not an authority on the subject but do spend enough time on the hill to have an honest opinion. Also my opinion is based on a heck of a lot of observing. I have eight spots that I try and go and observe the chukars each month of the year except June and July. Most eggs are hatching at that time and I prefer to save gas these months.

Although I'm not a good reader, I do read up and find as much as I can about the specifics and studies done on the survival of chukar populations. Most of the material is from Nevada, Utah, and Colorado but it applies to Idaho and Oregon just the same. Also most articles are pre 2000.

Pairing birds start showing up as early as February in most of the 8 areas I keep track of. It seems to me that the huns pair up earlier than the chukars, but I'm finding a lot of paired up chukars already this year. I can't even speculate as to why they are starting earlier than in past years but only hope it's for a good reason. When these birds are in this pairing process they are not nesting but courting and establishing their territory. By training on these birds you are not making any impact on the bird. In fact I find these pairs are great birds for training. They hold good and fly as if being shot at. Even when they fly different ways they soon find each other again. Remember, they're in love and the bull doesn't want another young man messing with his girl. Also, once they start pairing covey's of chukar start dispersing. While training you're not going to find pair after pair but usually your dog has to work to find the next pair because they scatter out so far.

In one Nevada study, out of 100 chukars located in a mile square area, only 7 pair and 1 single remained in the area and the rest dispersed outside of the one mile zone. That's maybe why chukar numbers in certain area's vary so much from year to year.

Just because birds are pairing does not mean they are nesting. This courting and pairing process may last for two months before a nest is established. The egg laying process usually starts between mid March and mid April. Even once this period comes there is no problem with being out their with your canine. The hen lays an egg and than goes off to feed and enjoy her mate until time to lay another egg. They are seldom close to the nest and by training on these birds you are doing no harm to the nesting site. Even though the birds may fly what seems a long distance, they have internal gps's that find them right back at the nesting site when need be.

Chukar nest will average between 15 and 16 eggs in a normal season. I found one nest with 28 eggs in it, I don't know what the survival rate was but wouldn't it be great to have them all survive. Usually one egg is layed per day until the hen has finished laying eggs. Then the incubation process begins.

Now, the hen sits on the nest continuously for 24 days. This incubation period usually begins in May. Although I don't spend as many days on the chukar hill in May, I still believe with a well trained dog you're not endangering the chukar population. Unless your dog is wild and uncontrollable, when he or she hits scent (if they can even hit scent this time of year) the male chukar will try and attract the canine by flying a short distance and than the female will do the same if necessary. I've found several nest by sitting off at a distance and watching for the chukar to sneak back to the nesting site.

Late May, June and the earlier part of July is probably the worst time of the year to be in chukar country. That is when the majority of chukars hatch. In Idaho and Oregon they say June 10 is about the average of when most eggs hatch. My observations believe it is a little later but I don't have the research tools that they have, so maybe there research should be a little more adhered to. Unless you have a very well trained dog it's best to leave the birds alone. Babies don't fly until about two weeks old. If you approach a covey that is less than two weeks old the hen will fake injury to attract attention and you know what a hunting dog is supposed to do when seeing a wounded bird. Once in a while the hen will fake too well and get caught. That's not good, even though the male is close by and will probably take over the rearing process since the pair stays together as a family unit.

While all this faking is going on the little birds freeze and blend into the landscape. The theory is that they have no scent at that time but I know that's not true. I have had my dogs point a less than five day old chick and the chick lay motionless under his nose. Luckily for me, I'm supposed to be the flusher, so with some stern whoa's I keep him still until I can walk him away. I quickly leave the area and let the family reorganize.

After about the 15th of July I figure most hatches are done and the chicks can fly. There are still going to be some late hatches, but the majority of the hatch is done by now. At this point I treat my training and hunting grounds like normal. The birds fly well and can avoid the hunter and dog almost like normal. I may be doing the birds a favor by being out at this time of the year. Mama chukar has a chance of imprinting upon her chicks that dogs and hunters are bad before we have a chance to go after them with a gun.

Hopefully, I've touched upon some of the biological aspects of what is happening with chukar/hun breeding seasons without sounding like an authority. From this information and your knowledge of your dog you have to make the decision of whether you should be out in the field. My honest opinion is that if you don't go to the same place and train in several different places you aren't going to hurt the bird populations. I, unlike the journals or blogs that are saying don't be out there when the birds are paired, believe in our outdoor enthusiasts to do the right thing. Most chukar hunters have a lot more common sense than some give us (even though we are thought to not be to smart to even take on chukar hunting). When I run into a situation that might be harmful to chukars or any other animal for that matter I'll back out and try and minimize my impact. So would almost all other hunters and outdoor enthusiast that I know.

 So, my opinion is get out there training and enjoying the outdoors. Listen to your heart and use common sense. Those guys out there saying you shouldn't be out there are usually making those comments because they don't want to be out there and would rather be doing something else. Let them do what they want and you do whatever it is you want.


James T said...

Larry I have the survey saved on my computer to reference when watching the weather during the nesting season and hatch to see if there is a freeze. That can be a concern for being in the field during paring & nesting I don't think so. I read a lot of the Chucker Hunting web sights some times they bring to mind CHICKEN LITTLE The sky is falling The sky is falling it was actually just snow. Keep having fun I am.

Anonymous said...

Those sites like UJ and GDF certainly have their share of chicken little types in their midst. If you were to peruse both places you'd only need one hand to count the genuine bird dog guys vs. the cannon fodder. I wouldn't worry what those clowns might say to do or not do, the best course is to do just the opposite.

Sad, those sites used to have a real pool of knowledge. Where have all the good hunters gone, long time passing -song-

Alan J.

larry szurgot said...

James T. and Alan J., I've never hears the CHICKEN LITTLE story until I read your comments and it applies perfectly. I spent a few more days out the last week and was very pleased with all the healthy wildlife I saw. Most other blogs I've read keep posting about the massive die off,etc. but I'd rather think a little more positive and believe that what I'm seeing is a little more of the norm. I know Jake's loving it.