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THE CHUKAR (Alectoris graeca cypriotes)

Is one of the most handsome birds of Cyprus belonging to the Phasianidae family. It is also the best known game bird. It is a common resident bird seen throughout the year all over the island. The Cypriotes race also occurs in Crete, the southern Aegean islands and southern Turkey. Its habitat extends throughout Cyprus from the dry rocky or arid land to the vine-covered hill-sides and as high as the Troodos mountains ( I .900 m.). Its striking combination of colours and patterns is quite impressive: the predominant colour of the upper parts is pale grey fawn: the forehead is ash-grey, the flanks are barred black, white and chestnut, the belly is warm buff: white cheeks and throat bordered with black and its bill and legs are red. The overall appearance is so distinctive that it can hardly be mistaken for any other bird.

Pairing occurs as early as mid January in the lowlands and as late March in the higher mountains. Clutches between 11-15 are the norm and occur from February to May. Young ones appear in late March to August. Chukars are persistent if their first clutch is lost. It conditions are favorable chuckars may lay 2 successive clutches even though this is not very common.

During the summer and autumn partridges may be seen in coveys of up to twelve or more but later in the year they appear in pairs or small parties. They make a nest of dry grass on the ground and in March and April lay from eight to sixteen eggs which are hatched in about twenty-two days. Partridges spend most of their time on the ground and being good runners they often adopt this method of avoiding their enemies rather than taking to flight. Still, they are renowned for their powerful direct flight.

In the Cypriot folklore, the partridge is often mentioned for its bedecked appearance and its graceful gait. The word "pertika" (partridge) in Cypriot dialect is used to describe a beautiful and fine strapping girl. Moreover, words such as "pertika", "pertikoua" (partridge or little partridge) are very often used as pet names by Cypriots to refer to their loved ones, especially their children and in particular daughters. There is a superstition in villages according to which if one does not use partridge eggs the traditional Cypriot "flaounes" (Easter cheese pies) do not turn golden brown; an- other superstition says that if children swallow partridge eggs they will have a good voice; this is why villagers used to pick and use partridge eggs in one way or another. In the villages of the Pitsillia valley, there is the following well known legend regarding the partridge's red bill and legs as well as its nest and its voice: The Turks were on the lookout for St. Jacob in order to kill him and they finally approached him in a river- side where there was a big poplar tree (in Cypriot dialect: “kavadjin”). The Saint then prayed to God and the poplar's trunk opened up and he hid inside it. The Turks continued to hunt for him but could not find him. But suddenly, a partridge sitting on the other side of the river bank started making a cackling and clucking call saying: "go to the kavadjin, go to the kavadjin". The Turks understood what the bird was calling, chopped the poplar, found the Saint inside and massacred him. The partridge went there to drink some water, walked into the Saint's blood and when it bent down to the water, its legs and bill turned red and have remained red ever since. In many Cypriot epics and songs partridge meat is reported to be very tasty. Here is what Arodaphnousa tells her nurses in order to find out who the King's mistress is and kill her: "Tzai pete mou to b' agies mou tzi' egiwvi
‘es sas dervw oullom pertitzia tzai laous egiw va sas taizw..."

(Tell me my nurses, tell me for I shall not beat you but I shall be offering you only partridge and hare to eat)

Besides, in the story of Saradjinos (the Saracen), Constantia, his beloved one, says the following words while she welcomes the guests:

"Kalws nrtav oi 3evoi mou, va fav va piouv mita mas
va fasiv t' adrn tou laou, va fav oftov pertitziv..."

(Welcome my guests, come eat and drink with us eat hare's best piece, eat roast partridge)

Similar verse is also found in the Digenis Akritas epic where Death itself is invited at table.

Great efforts are made every year to increase the chukar population. From 1990 a new legislation was introduced providing for the allocation of the funds coming from shooting license, to the protection and development of game and wildlife. About 3 million dollars are spent annually for the improvement of habitat, rearing of game species, protection and scientific research.

There is a state-operated game farm in Stavrovouni that produces 20 thousand chukar partridges a year and 6 private contractors for the production of 80,000 birds per year. Pen-reared chukars are released in the wild twice a year, in January and in the summer. In January, year-old birds are released after being conditioned in large pens at the release site to reinforce the decrease due to shooting.

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