There comes a time in every amateur birder’s life when we see in the wild something we’ve never seen.

For me, usually it’s an immature hawk or color-variated songbird that doesn’t resemble the pictures in my birding guides.

Which is why I always reach out to Western Maine Audubon or my birding friends for some educational identification assistance. Usually, I’m not stumped for very long.

But last Thursday’s “What the heck is that?” sighting in downtown Farmington left me perplexed until Tuesday.

That’s when I finally e-mailed photos I’d taken of the quail-like bird with an orange beak that crossed Broadway in front of my stopped minivan while I gawked.

It then posed long enough for pictures in the snow-covered office yard of Farmington lawyer Richard Morton before strutting out of sight.

My co-worker Eileen Adams, who was equally stumped, told me to send a picture to her husband, Frank Maccarrone of Wilton, who has identified snakes in the past for me.

“It’s a Chukar partridge,” Frank wrote back, as did David Rodrigues of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Maccarrone then tells me it’s native to the Middle East and common in the American West, but no close relation to our ruffed grouse.

Rodrigues wrote that the Chukar (Alectoris chukar) isn’t native to the U.S. Instead, he said, it’s a Eurasian species introduced to America and commonly found in the wild in Nevada, Colorado, etc.

He said Chukars are “not found in the wild here, but commonly raised in captivity for hunting.”

Off to Google I went, wondering how a bird from Nevada or the western Himalayas in India was on the lam in Farmington.

On Wednesday, I had my answer, thanks to Western Maine Audubon Directors Peggy Dwyer of Livermore, Paul Maguire of Farmington and Marie Wade of Farmington.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Dwyer said of the Chukar escapee. “They are commonly used in the training of hunting dogs, so hunting clubs and dog trainers will often use those birds to train dogs that are going to be used in field trials and so forth.”

Dwyer, who raises bobwhite quail and peafowl, said it is legal to keep Chukars in Maine. However, a special permit or propagator’s license is required from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

According to the department’s website, commercial shooting areas are also licensed by Maine and allow the hunting of mallard ducks, pheasant, quail and Chukar partridge only. Hunting is allowed from Jan. 1 through Dec. 1, including Sundays.

“Last spring there was a Chukar hanging out in the vicinity of Maple Hill Farm along the Titcomb Hill Road,” Maguire said. “The one you saw probably either got away during a field trial or was an escapee from another venue.”

“They’re not the brightest bird in the bush, having been handled so much, and thus become dinner for any predator with half a brain,” he said.

Dwyer told me to contact Wade, who lives on Elm Street in Farmington, and with husband Peter, are members of the Sebasticook Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.

Wade said the Chukar was likely one of their birds.

“We dog train with German shorthairs and we buy (Chukars) on an annual basis, and then have permits actually to keep them in the backyard,” she said, where one might escape or slip out of a game bag.

When practicing with the short-haired pointers, Wade said they train in a large field off Route 4 just outside of town.

A Chukar is released, the dog finds and points to the bird, flushing it into the air, while the hunter attempts to shoot it.

“If we miss it, it’s free and off it goes,” she said.

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