Game birds can be a challenge for birders to find. While most game bird species are larger than typical songbirds, they are also heavily camouflaged. Shy, elusive birds, they can be hard to find even for experienced birders, but knowing where, when and how to find these birds can help any birder add game birds to their life list.
About Game Birds
More than 150 species of birds in North America can be labeled as game birds, and there are hundreds of game bird species around the world. At any given time, however, not all game bird species are available for hunting, but birders can "hunt" for these birds at any time of year.
Many different types of birds are classified as game birds, including:
Where, When and How to Find Game Birds
For most birders, game birds are not typical backyard visitors. Understanding how to find these birds in the field is key for identifying them properly and enjoying their unique behaviors.
Where to find game birds depends on the types of birds desired. Because the species of game birds are so widely varied, it is possible to find a hunted species of bird in nearly any habitat. Birders interested in finding a specific type of game bird should be aware of what habitat it prefers.
- Open Water / Wetlands: Rails, geese, swans, ducks
- Fields / Grasslands: Grouse, pheasants, doves, cranes
- Forests: Quail, grouse, turkeys, doves
If a birder is interested in one game bird species, it is best to study the preferences of that bird before venturing into the field.
Game birds can be found at all times of year, and many of the most popular game birds are non-migratory and can be found in the same range year-round. Because these birds are so elusive, however, it is easiest to find them either in the breeding season or in the early autumn. In the breeding season, many game birds gather in large flocks in traditional locations to find mates, and in the fall, family groups can be easier to spot than individual birds. Early and late in the day are the best times to look for these birds as they feed, though they can be noticed foraging throughout the day.
Many game birds are superbly camouflaged with patchy colored plumage that disrupts the shape of the birds' bodies and helps hide them from predators. Because of that, birders need to take extra care when looking for these birds. Paying close attention to birds' head shapes and markings can make identification easier, particularly in grassland areas when the birds' bodies may be hidden from view. Birding by ear can also be useful, since many species will perch and call to summon the rest of their flock or covey.
Many types of game birds feed mostly on the ground, and watching for movement in the grass or shrubby cover, or watching for swimming waterfowl, can be effective in locating the birds. Because these birds are often found in pairs or groups, watching an area where one bird has been spotted can often lead to even better views of other members of the group.
Game Birds in the Backyard
Game birds are not typical backyard birds, but some species, such as quail, doves and turkeys, will regularly visit backyards in the appropriate habitat. Birders who offer seed and corn in ground feeders or low platforms may attract game birds, and landscaping with low, shrubby cover can provide protection and security for these skittish species. Because these birds can travel in large flocks, however, and they have big appetites, they aren't always welcome in all birders' backyards.
Photo – Ruffed Grouse © Michael Woodruff