Sometimes they get called the generic name, game birds. Other times they are known as partridges, grouse, turkeys, and quail. Regardless, the twenty native North American Phasianidae, continue to serve as the focal point of a meal on dinner plates across North America.
Ducks, also game birds, belong to a separate family. Press the button to learn more about them.
Their popularity also extends beyond the dinner plate. In early Colonial days, for example, the native wild turkey competed with the bald eagle for the honor of being designated the official national birds.
Today a few states such as California, Pennsylvania, Alaska and South Dakota follows that game bird celebration tradition by designating a game bird as their official state bird.
North Dakota has the Ring-necked Phesant. It’s probably the most wide ranging of the game birds, inhabiting most North American fields, with the exception of the Southeast. Red faced males stand apart from the more uniformly feathered females.
Here’s a quick run down of representative specie in the game bird category.
The common name grouse generally applies to seven species in five genera of game birds. Native to the Northwest and Rocky Mountains, these short, plump birds live around in both high and low elevation forested areas. While not as showy or numerous as pheasants, they can often be spotted in the open during the summer season. The picture shows a dusky grouse.
The Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus), a small, commonly hunted game bird, inhabits northern boreal forests. The National Audubon Society reports that deforestation has led to over a fifty percent decline in their population levels over the past forty years.
Ruffed Grouse grow to about the size of a chicken. Like other grouse, they are ground nesters that live on a diet of local fruits and seeds. Picture two shows this chicken looking bird, the Ruffed Grouse crossing the road, no doubt because it was trying to get to the other side. It is the official state bird for Pennsylvania.
Three different crested quail (Callipepla) species, the California Quail (Callipepla californica), Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii), and Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), reside in the Western United States. The Gambel’s Quail, a ground nesting, native species of the desert Southwest, lives among the region’s cacti and scrub brush.
The picture shows a female Gambel’s, with the prominent head crest. Their diet consists of fruits, leaves and insects in their territory.
The California Quail (Callipepla californica) resides in Western scrub areas, and often makes the move to residential areas and gardens. White striped faces help identify males. Gray breasts and a head crest are common for both genders. While California Quail can fly, most spend their time in large groups or coveys, scratching on the ground for seeds and insects.
Ten New World Cracidae species, best known for the Chachalacas, inhabit Central America north through the Arctic. Part of the larger order, Galliformes, Cracidae are a Neotropical family related to the North American game birds such as grouse and pheasants.
Like North American game birds, their history gets related in stories of their utility as a food source for the human populations within and at the edges of their natural habitat.
The Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula), a chicken like bird, represents the Cracidae family north of the United States-Mexico border. They are fairly large birds, reaching two feet in height. The picture highlights the bird’s small head and large tail, brown on the top and brown with white tips on the bottom.
Chachalacas are well known for their vocalization, a series of chac-a-lac calls that spring from their throats as they jump or fly from one tree to another.