The French Red Legged Partridge, Alectoris rufa, is a classic European game and sporting bird. They are striking and proud in appearance, with notable bright red legs, beaks, and eye patches. The body is blue-gray with peach and rufous tones. They have a black stripe surrounding the white cheek patches on the face and the black descends down the neck-breaking into dark speckling. The slashes of bright white and chestnut bars along their sides are particularly captivating.
French Red-Legged Partridges are stocky and rotund birds. Males and females look much alike although males are larger and can be distinguished by their small spurs. French Red Legged Partridge look similar in appearance to Barberry Partridge and Chukars.
When startled, French Red Legged Partridge prefer to run rather than fly. These birds have a long history of being bred for meat production and sporting. These are spunky little birds, hardy, and easy to raise.
Range: The French Red-Legged Partridge is native to southwestern Europe, but it has naturalized throughout Europe and even can be found in Great Britain. There are currently programs underway to naturalize these birds in New Zealand.
Habitat: Despite their striking markings and colors, the French Red Legged Partridge blends almost completely into its environment. The gray back and speckled patterns mimic the rocky dry slopes and grasslands that they inhabit. These are birds of dry and stony lowlands, pastures, and farmlands.
Status in the Wild: Least Concern.
Status in Aviculture: French Red Legged Partridge have a long and noble history in aviculture. There are records of these birds being bred in captivity for hundreds of years.
Breeding: French Red Legged Partridge have a long breeding season, beginning in late April and extending into June. Males can be aggressive during the breeding season, and pairs may need to be separated. Providing space and hiding places and secluded areas for nesting also helps with stress reduction during the breeding season. These partridge can hybridize or cross with other similar species so avoid housing similar birds in the same enclosure. Eggs are laid in the first year, and clutch size is usually 10-12 eggs. Eggs are olive-tan in color and speckled in light brown. Incubation takes 23 days.
Lifespan: French Red Legged Partridge have a lifespan of about 3-5 years.
Size: French Red Legged Partridge are stout and heavy birds for their size - they usually weigh 12-16 ounces.
Housing Requirements: Like most partridge, French Red Legged Partridge are easy to care for. They do well in aviaries and enclosures but be watchful for aggressive behavior when housing a lot of them. Be sure that the floor of the enclosure can be kept dry and well-drained, as these birds do not do well in wet conditions. French Red Legged Partridge are winter hardy. It would be a good practice to keep them in flocks during the winter as the birds do huddle together on cold nights for warmth.
Diet: French Red Legged Partridge eat seeds in the wild, with young birds seeking out extra protein in the form of insects. A high-quality commercial game bird feed would be appropriate.
Miscellaneous Notes: French Red Legged Partridge have been featured in many paintings depicting supper-time opulence. Jean-Baptiste Oudry's painting is currently in the Louvre, called, "Pheasant, Hare, and Red-Legged Partridge."