Game birds are diverse and have adapted to living in various habitats, from deserts to tundra. Many game birds in North America have been given this name as they have long been hunted for sport. The early settlers led an onslaught on these birds that continues today, as many of these birds have been found suitable to eat.
However, I feel that these are much better to observe in their natural habitat, and if you feel the same way, this article will give you some great information on these beautiful, large birds. If you want to learn more, then please read on.
The Plain chachalaca is a buff and brown gamebird. They are tree-dwellers with long, broad tails with white tips. Their small head and long neck make them easily recognizable, as does the bare, red skin on their throat.
They make a cha-cha-lac sound from which they get their name. They measure about 21-22 inches long. Tree-dwelling birds can be found in woods and forests, mainly in the lower Rio Grande valley.
The gray partridge is named for its gray breast. They have brown-streaked upper parts and orange faces. Their underparts have a brownish horseshoe marking. The gray partridge measures about 12 inches long and can be found in open fields and grasslands. They breed in arable fields with thickets.
The gray partridge makes a fast krikri-kri-kri-krikri sound. This bird can be found in the United States and Canada and lays its eggs in ground nests. The nests are lined with grasses and can be found in long-dead grass. They lay up to 20 eggs which are dark olive.
The chukar measures up to 15 inches long and has some beautiful markings. They have a face pattern of black, which encloses a cream bib. They can be distinguished why a series of black and white stripes on their flanks, red legs, and a red beak.
The chukar makes a choo-kar sound from where it gets its name. They can be found in barren areas and arid mountains, especially in the west, where they also lay their eggs. Their nests are hollowed with feathers and grass and can be found hidden among rocks. They lay between 7 and 15 eggs, which are spotted brown.
The ring-necked pheasant is a large gamebird measuring between 20 and 35 inches. They are colorful, with the male colored in browns and golds and covered with spots. They have a red area around the eye, a blue head, and a white neck ring from which they get their name. The female ring-necked pheasant is slightly more subdued, with brown and buff colors and a paler red around the eye.
They can be identified by sound by their low crowing noise and can be found in woodland edges, fields, and thickets. They lay their eggs in a hollow lined with leaves. They lay between 8 and 15 dark olive eggs. The ring-necked pheasant can be found across the northern United States and southern Canada.
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The spruce grouse grows between 15 and 17 inches long and roams around coniferous forests. They lay their eggs in a depression on the ground, usually beneath a young tree-lined with grass. They lay 7 to 10 cream eggs that have brown spots.
The spruce grouse has a red wattle above the eye, but the rest of its plumage is black and white. They have a black chin with a white border and are black on their breast and belly. Females can be identified as they are heavily barred with black tail tips. They make a low-pitched booming sound and can be found from Alaska to Nova Scotia.
The male sooty grouse is gray below with mottled flanks and brown upper parts. Females have brown plumage with barring on their breasts and a spotted belly. Both have a square tail that is dark.
The male sooty grouse has a booming call, and they can be found in forests, clearings, meadows, and hillsides. They lay between 7 and 10 eggs in a nest in a hollow lined with grass and leaves. They can be found in higher altitudes in coniferous forests in winter but come down in Spring to deciduous forests to breed.
The dusky grouse is very similar to the sooty grouse. Along with the sooty grouse, the dusky grouse were once thought to be just one species, the blue grouse, which is no longer used to describe them.
The dusky grouse can be found in the Rocky Mountains and from New Mexico to Alaska. They prefer coniferous and mixed forests.
The dusky grouse is a dark bird with an air sac that is purplish. A yellowish-red wattle over the eye can identify them. Females are lighter in color than males, with white marks on their underparts.
The willow ptarmigan is a grouse found on open moors and tundra. They can be found in northern Canada and from Newfoundland across to Alaska. They grow up to 17 inches long.
They are hardy birds and can adapt well to cold temperatures. One adaptation is their plumage becomes white in winter to help them keep safe from predators, while another is that their feet are covered in feathers. In the other seasons, males are reddish-brown with a red comb, although their feet and wings are white.
They make a koc-koc-koc sound and lay between 5-17 eggs in hollows lined with leaves and grass. One interesting thing to note about the willow ptarmigan is that the male looks after the young more than any other grouse or ptarmigan.
The rock ptarmigan grows up to 14 inches long and looks like the willow ptarmigan, although they are less red and grayer and have a dark line between the eye and the bill. As with the willow ptarmigan, their feathers turn white in winter.
They sound different from the willow ptarmigan with a karr sound. They can also be found at higher altitudes on mountain tops and tundra. They can be found in Alaska, along the extreme north of Canada, and through Newfoundland. They nest near rocks in a hollow lined with feathers and grass. They lay between 3 and 12 eggs, which are cream and spotted with dark brown.
The white-tailed ptarmigan can be distinguished from other ptarmigans as they are smaller, growing up to 13 inches long. They are mottled gray with white underparts and wings. Their feathers change to pure white in winter, as with other ptarmigans.
They make a chuckling sound and can be found on mountain slopes from Alaska to the Rocky Mountains and New Mexico. They nest in hollows lined with grass and lay between 4 to 15 eggs, spotted brown.
The ruffed grouse can be found around deciduous and conifer forests in the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians, and other areas. They grow up to 19 inches long and have two color phases. The red phase gives the birds a reddish-brown upper with brown bars below, banded rust, and a black tail. In the gray phase, the rufous turns to gray.
The male makes a drumming sound, which they create by beating their wings, usually on a log. The ruffed grouse can be found in deciduous and conifer forests and bred in deciduous woodland. They lay between 9 and 12 spotted brown eggs in hollows next to a rock or tree-lined with grass and leaves.
The sage grouse is a large gamebird measuring between 22 and 30 inches. They are the largest of the grouse. The male has a buff and black upper with black marks on the belly, throat, and breast, although most of the breast is whitish. When they display, they puff their chest, and yellow air sacs can be seen poking out of the white breast. Females are smaller and less colorful, with black bellies and long spiked tails.
The male sage grouse can be heard making popping sounds and can be found in sagebrush country and plains. They live in Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta and can be found in the west of the United States. They lay between 7 and 13 speckled brown eggs in a grass-lined hollow.
The Gunnison sage grouse is very similar to the sage grouse, so much so that it was thought to be the same species until 2000 when it was recognized to be different.
Unfortunately, the Gunnison-sage grouse is threatened, with numbers of only a few thousand. They can be found in eastern Utah and western Colorado.
Greater Prairie Chicken
The greater prairie chicken was once abundant in North America but is now quite rare. They can be found from North Dakota down to Texas on open plains, prairies, and grasslands. They can be identified by heavy brown bars, extended crest, and orange neck sacs, although they have red neck sacs in Texas. They have a square, black tail and a length of up to 18 inches.
They have a loud call that can be heard over long distances. They lay 7 and 17 eggs in a hollow on the ground, lined with grasses. The nest is generally hidden among bushes or tall grass.
The lesser prairie chicken is similar in size and shape to the greater prairie chicken, but the barring is paler and less contrasting. The neck sacs are a lighter color also, being yellowish-orange.
The lesser prairie chicken does not have such a wide range as the greater prairie chicken and can be found around Northern Texas and surrounding states.
The sharp-tailed grouse is a large gamebird and grows up to 20 inches long. A violet patch can identify males on their necks, but apart from this patch of color, they are quite dully colored. The sharp-tailed grouse is brown and buff. As the name suggests, their tail is contoured to a sharp point.
The sharp-tailed grouse can be heard cooing in clearings in the forest and open country. They can be found from Alaska throughout Canada to Hudson Bay and down as far as the prairies.
Their nests are hollow, lined with grasses, and lay between 10 and 15 buff-colored eggs.
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The wild turkey is one of the most well-known game birds in North America and worldwide, as they can be found on tables at Christmas. They are large, measuring up to 48 inches long, and make a gobbling noise.
They have a blue and redhead, black plumage, and a large fanned tail. They can be found in woodland clearings and scrub in the wild, preferring deciduous trees that allow dense cover. They lay between 8 and 15 eggs, which are gray with speckles.
The most popular quail, the California quail, is also known as the valley quail.
The California quail male is marked with white and black on the head and can be distinguished by a chocolate color crown and a crest shaped like a comma. They have barred underparts and blue breasts.
The California quail is native to California but can be found in Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
They can be found primarily on the ground in search of food. The California quail is mainly a seed eater. They also eat leaves, flowers, catkins, grain, and invertebrates like caterpillars, beetles, and mites.
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The Mountain quail is a gray, white and chestnut-colored plump bird. They are known as elusive birds found in the western scrub and highlands.
Among the six species of quail found in North America, the mountain quail is the largest bird. The mountain quail eats plants, insects, beetles, and ants. Although the mountain quail flourish in arid and wet habitats, they are seldom found in grassland.
A mountain quail’s diet includes small fruits, flowers, and seeds of many smaller plants. The breeding biology of the mountain quail is yet to be thoroughly researched, but according to records, the male attracts the female by presenting food using his flank and tail feather.
During the mating period, the male might present itself holding out its wings, cocking and fanning the tail, and flaring the feathers of the neck and flanks. Females are known to crouch in front of their potential mates.
Gambel’s quail, a gregarious desert bird, is decorated in gray, chestnut, and cream plumage.
Gambel’s quail’s habitat is mainly thorny and bushy vegetation deserts, including river valleys, creeks, washes, and oak woodlands of the high desert.
Gambel’s quail live on plants and seeds. They also eat leaves, shrubs, grasses, fruits, and prickly pears. They mainly depend on fruits in the summer and fall, while they eat insects in the Spring, particularly during their nesting seasons.
Gambel’s quail are like to be found walking in groups on the ground. During their breeding period, these large groups break up and make new groups of juveniles and males.
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The Montezuma quail is patterned with stripes and dots. The Montezuma quail are found mainly in grasslands-mountain and oak-woodlands of North America. They move slowly, usually not moving more than 150 feet per day. They move from one place to another in small family clusters and seldom form large groups.
Tubers and insects are their primary food, but they also eat acorns. Their mating is monogamous. However, 60% of the total population is male. This leads to one female getting two male partners. After mating, the female lays and incubates the eggs in various nests to raise the chicks.
The scaled quail can be found in desert grasslands, scrublands, undisturbed habitats, and parks. They eat mainly seeds, leaves, and fruits from the plants directly. Like other quail, their feeding time is in the morning and late afternoon. They make their nests on the ground using cacti, yucca, or small trees.
The breeding period of the scaled quail starts in April. During the breeding period, the males deliver a high-pitched repeated “whack!” to attract females. Their mating court display is known as “tidbitting.”
The Northern bobwhite is the most common small gamebird across the Eastern United States.
Their name comes not from their color but their voice, which sounds like they are saying bob-white.
The male is brown above, with scaly white underneath. They have a white face with black around the eyes. The female is similar but has a creamy-colored face.
The Northern bobwhite can be found in grasslands and farms along the U.S.’s eastern half.
For more information on the game and other birds of North America, I recommend the following field guides.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.