Game Birds Of North America


Game birds are a diverse group and have adapted to living in various habitats from deserts to tundra. There are many species of game birds in North America, and they 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 good to eat.

However, I feel that these are much better to observe in their natural habitat, and if you feel the same way then this article will give you some great information on these beautiful, large birds. If you want to learn more then please read on.

Plain Chachalaca

Alan Schmierer Flickr

The Plain chachalaca is a buff and brown gamebird. They are tree-dwellers and have a long and broad tail that has a white tip. Their small head and long neck makes 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. Being tree-dwelling birds they can be found in woods and forests, mainly in the lower Rio Grande valley.

Gray Partridge

Shawn McCready Flickr CC 2.0

The gray partridge is named for its gray breast. They have brown-streaked upperparts and an orange face. Their underparts have a brownish horseshoe marking. The gray partridge measures about 12 inches long and they can be found in open areas such as 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 lay their 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.

Chukar

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 consist of a hollow lined with feathers and grass and can be found hidden among rocks. They lay between 7 and 15 eggs which are spotted brown.

Ring-necked Pheasant

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 along with 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 about 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.

Spruce Grouse

USFWS Flickr

The spruce grouse grows between 15-17 inches long and can be found roaming 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 their 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.

Sooty Grouse

BLM Wyoming Flickr CC 2.0

The male sooty grouse is gray below with mottled flanks and brown upperparts. Females have brown plumage with barring on their breast 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 coming down in Spring to deciduous forests to breed.

Dusky Grouse

Great Sand Dunes National Park Flickr

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, a name which is no longer used to describe them.

The dusky grouse can be found in the Rocky Mountains, and from New Mexico up to Alaska. They prefer coniferous and mixed forests.

The dusky grouse is a dark bird with an air sac that is purplish. They can be identified by a yellowish-red wattle over the eye. Females are lighter in color than males with white marks on their underparts.

Willow Ptarmigan

The willow ptarmigan is a grouse that can be 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 the 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, that male is 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.

Rock Ptarmigan

The rock ptarmigan grows up to 14 inches long and is similar in look to the willow ptarmigan although they are less red and more gray 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 through to 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.

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Gail Hampshire Flickr CC 2.0

The white-tailed ptarmigan can be distinguished from other ptarmigan as they are smaller, growing up to 13 inches long. They are mottled gray with white underparts and wings. In winter their feathers change to pure white as with other ptarmigan.

They make a chuckling sound and can be found on mountain slopes from Alaska down to the Rocky Mountains and New Mexico. They nest in hollows in the ground lined with grass and lay between 4 to 15 eggs which are spotted brown.

Ruffed Grouse

The ruffed grouse can be found around deciduous and conifer forests in the Rocky Mountains and 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 with a banded rust and 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 they breed 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.

Sage Grouse

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 arks on the belly, throat and breast although most of the breast is whitish. When in display they puff their chest and to yellow air sacs can be seen poking out of the white breast. Females are smaller and less colorful, with a black belly. Both have a long spiked tail.

The male sage grouse can be heard making popping sounds and they 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 hollow lined with grass.

Gunnison-Sage Grouse

Alan Schmierer Flickr

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 in Texas they have red neck sacs. They have a square, black tail with a length up to 18 inches.

They have a loud call which can be heard over long distances. They lay between 7 and 17 eggs in a hollow on the ground which they line with grasses. The nest is normally hidden among bushes or tall grass.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

USFWS Mountain-Prairie Flickr CC 2.0

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 paler 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.

Sharp-tailed Grouse

USFWS Mountain-Prairie Flickr CC 2.0

The sharp-tailed grouse is a large gamebird and grows up to 20 inches long. Males can be identified by a violent patch on their neck, but apart from this patch of color they are quite dully colored. The sharp-tailed grouse is brown and buff. Their tail is, as the name suggests, contoured to a sharp point.

The sharp-tailed grouse can be heard cooing in clearings in forest and open country. They can be found from Alaska throughout Canada to Hudson Bay and down as far as the prairies.

Their nest is a hollow that is lined with grasses, and they lay between 10 to 15 buff colored eggs.

Wild Turkey

The wild turkey is one of the most well-known gamebirds not only in North America but also 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 red head, black plumage, and a large fanned tail. They can be found in the wild in woodland clearings and scrub, preferring deciduous trees that allow dense cover. They lay between 8 and 15 eggs which are gray with speckles.

California Quail

California Quail

The most popular quail, the California quail is also commonly 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 that is shaped like a comma. They have barred underparts and a blue breast.

The California quail is native to California, but can be found in Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

They can be found mostly 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. 

Mountain Quail

Mountain Quail

The Mountain quail is a gray, white and chestnut-colored plump bird. They are known as an elusive bird that can be 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 both arid and wet habitat, they are found seldom in grassland. 

A mountain quails diet includes small fruits, flowers, and seeds of many smaller plants. The breeding biology of the mountain quail is yet to be fully 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 their 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 mate.

Gambel’s Quail

Gambels Quail

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 pear. They mainly depend on fruits in the summer and fall, while they eat insects in the spring session, and 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 mainly juveniles and males. 

Montezuma Quail

Montezuma Quail
Alan Schmierer Flickr CC1.0

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, normally not moving more than 150 feet per day. They move from one place to another place in small family-clusters, and seldom form large groups. 

Tubers and insects are their main food, but 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. 

Scaled Quail 

Scaled quail
Greg Schechter Flickr CC2.0

The scaled quail can be found in areas of mostly 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 the morning and late afternoon. They make their nests on the ground, using cactus, 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 “whock!” to attract females. Their mating court display is known as “tidbitting”.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

The Northern bobwhite is the most common small gamebird across the Eastern United States.  

Their name comes not from their color but from 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 living in grasslands and farms and can be found mainly along the eastern half of the U.S.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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