Idaho Chukar Numbers Low Again
Recent aerial counts at Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River showed chukar numbers below last year’s and only about one-third of the 10-year average. Observers saw 453 birds, compared with last year’s 506 and the 10-year average of 1,325. This was about 38 chukar per square mile; 111.8 birds per square mile is the 10-year average.
The number of groups of chukar is also down from 70 last year to 61 this year. The average is about 107 groups observed. This is the third year in a row of below average chukar populations at Brownlee, dropping sharply from 2005 when the bird count was 2,085, the second-highest on record.
Idaho Fish and Game upland manager Don Kemner said chukars tend to follow a “boom and bust” cycle affected by severe winter snows and spring nesting success. The winter in the Hells Canyon area was heavier than usual and cut into a carryover of birds that was already low last year. Two years of favorable weather could, however, have chukar numbers back up to a level high enough to bring a smile to a pointing dog’s muzzle.
Chukar hunters had an unusually long run of back-to-back good years from the late 1990s through 2005 at Brownlee with birds per square mile figures of 109 to 174.
Lucky Peak chukar numbers show a less sharp decline, though overall populations around the reservoir east of Boise have never approached those of the Snake River canyon. Observers saw 176 birds there this year, compared with a 10-year average of 243. Birds per square mile are 17.6, compared with an average 24.3. Groups per square mile are 1.7 compared with the average of 2.5. Birds in each group, though, are a bit above average at 10.4 compared with an average 10.2.
Farther north in the Clearwater Region, the chukar news is not much cheerier. Big wildfires in chukar habitat there in 2007 then a wet, cool spring kept numbers low. No counts were done in 2006 and 2007 because of a lack of helicopter availability. Bird numbers are down more than one-third from the five-year average.
Observers saw 64 birds per square mile along the Snake and Salmon rivers, down 34 percent from the 96.6 bird average. Groups seen were down 31 percent from 108.8 average to 75. Those groups, however, averaged a little larger than in 2005 and were only off seven percent from the average of 10.8.
The decline was not as steep on a separate Salmon River count area where observers saw 33 birds per square mile, down from 54 in 2005 and 19 percent off the five-year average. Groups seen were down just nine percent. Birds per group were off from 2005 – from 16 to 11 – but that is just 8 percent below average.