Keegan Van Rooyen was intrigued when she spotted a curious creature loitering in the parking lot of a Mill Woods strip mall: a plump bird with black and white stripes and a remarkably bright orange beak.
“I thought, ‘That looks like a really fancy bird,'” Van Rooyen said in an interview with CBC’s Radio Active.
Fancy or not, the bird looked out of place in the middle of the city.
Van Rooyen thought the feathered creature might have been someone’s pet. So she snapped a few pictures, and posted them to a Facebook group for lost pets in Edmonton.
It turns out that others had seen the same strange fowl, too. It’s called a chukar, a game bird native to the Middle East and the national bird of Pakistan. But this eye-pleasing partridge wasn’t making a one-time appearance on the Prairies — the bird has had a presence in North America since the 1800s.
“It was established as a game bird to be hunted,” said Dale Gienow, executive director of Wild North, a wildlife rescue organization for northern Alberta.
The birds are well-established in the wilderness of the northwestern United States and B.C. In Alberta, they’re typically raised on game farms, Gienow said.
“They’re raised for food and hunting. In many places, the birds are released on private property for hunters to hunt,” he said. “The ones we’re seeing around here are animals that have escaped from these private game farms. But they do very well in our environment.”
Gienow said his organization gets a couple of calls every year about chukars that have been found in the Edmonton area.
Wild North is focused on helping wildlife species, and wouldn’t normally take in a chukar unless it was injured or ailing.
And for the most part, people should just leave the birds alone if they don’t appear to be in distress.
“People shouldn’t be worried about their health; they thrive here. If people do manage to catch him, they can bring them to animal care and control.”