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FEATHER TALK
CHUKAR

Pam Kramer and I found a pile of Chukar feathers under a Russian olive tree at Lucin, Utah. Most observers would have speculated that a Chukar had provided a meal for a predator at that spot and gone on their way. However, I stopped to observe the feathers. And they talked to me. Mostly, they asked me questions. Why were the feathers here when the nearest Chukar habitat is miles away? Why am I not surprised to find the feathers of an Asian species in Utah? Why were Pam and I at Lucin when most Utahns have never even heard of the place? Why is the habitat at
Lucin so different from the surrounding desert? Let me backtrack a little and provide some information to make this story more interesting.

The intense railroad-building activity of the late 1800s is now but a shadow in the past. These days, steam engines are found only on tourist runs or at museums. But the unique desert oasis that exists at Lucin is here as a direct result of this long-gone era.

For many years Lucin was a booming railroad town. The only reason for establishing a town at this site was the railroad. I often think about how many railroad towns boomed and then became ghost towns so quickly.

Water was piped into town from springs in the Pilot Mountain range to serve the town and the steam engines. Water still flows from the Pilot range into two small ponds at the Lucin site. The buildings and human inhabitants of this ghost town are gone but an oasis for birds still exists. Currently, thousands of birds look down from their migratory journey to see a large expanse of water-starved desert and one small green spot with cover, food, and water. They fall out of the sky to this oasis. The current checklist of birds for Lucin has nearly 120 species on it. And now you know what brought Pam and I there. We all owe Pam a standing ovation for her dedicated work in acquiring a lease from the railroad for the Utah Division of Wildlife to perpetuate, and improve, this very important oasis for migrating birds.

Many decades ago, Chukar were introduced into the west from Asia, as an upland game bird for hunters. This species is now naturalized and provides much enjoyment to us "watchable wildlife" people. In fact, lots of calls I get from out-of-town birders ask “Where can I find a Chukar?”

But back to the story of this pile of Chukar feathers. The Chukar could have been the victim an avian predator, as the feathers were under a potential perch in a tree. A coyote could also have captured a Chukar and carried it to the thick cover to avoid being interrupted during a meal. If it was indeed an avian predator, what predatory bird is big enough to carry a Chukar from a good distance away? The Golden Eagle is an unlikely candidate as it rarely flies to a tree to eat its prey. Maybe a Peregrine Falcon or a very rare Gyrfalcon could carry a Chukar. Yes, I think I'll say a Gyrfalcon carried a Chukar to Lucin – this sounds really exciting. Some of you will probably prefer to be more realistic.


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