A comprehensive book about rearing and releasing partridges in the UK. It is written by one of England's foremost rearers of both Grey and Red-legged partridges and describes breeding pens, egg collection, incubation, and hatching. There are chapters on rearing partridges from day old through to 14 to 16 weeks when they are released into the wild.
This book is also for those people who rear a few pheasants and want to try partridges as well; it describes the rearing field, the pens, shelters, houses, water, food and explains the importance of monitoring the birds through to release. There is also an excellent chapter on partridge diseases by one of England's foremost avian vets, Alan Beynon.
The English Partridge
Perdix perdix, sometimes Perdix cinerea.
The English partridge is sometimes called the Common or Grey partridge.
It is non-migratory.
These birds are found mainly on farmed land, especially on light soils and
arable land where they frequent the rough ground bordering cultivation. In
coastal areas, they like to feed on the shoreline. They avoid heavy clay soils,
which crack in hot summers and would cause the loss of many chicks down
the crevices. English partridges are not as widespread as 50 years ago, due
to intensive cultivation, hedge removal, and above all the use of chemical
sprays which is an ongoing problem. They are found on large estates and
keepered farms (where people are aware of the partridges’ needs) in the
South of England, East Anglia, parts of the Midlands, and scattered areas
across the rest of the British Isles.
Partridges are a prey species and their presence shows a good equilibrium
between prey and predator, a healthy sign of balance in the countryside.
They are easily recognizable, being smallish round birds, weighing about
350gms, with orange-brown heads, greyish underparts, chestnut barred
flanks, and grey legs. The two sexes look alike from a distance, but in fact,
the crown on the cock bird is brown, with the rest of the head and neck red;
the hen bird just has a brown head. The cock bird also has a bold brown
horseshoe on his chest which can be seen on hen birds as well although to a
lesser extent. The horseshoe markings vary according to the age of the bird and
the season. Cock birds have no spurs and are more upright in appearance
English partridges have the largest vocabulary of all game birds, as they
cluck, chatter, hiss, bill snap and use a guttural note of alarm “br-r-r-r”. The
most common call is a loud, hoarse, “karwit, karwit” or “kirr-ie, kirr-ie”.
They are found in coveys, small groups, or pairs, but rarely singly except
during the breeding season. They pair up before French partridges, and this
can be any time from the end of November through to February. They are
great fighters over territory and can be seen in springtime running to and
fro, engaged in furious battles, quite oblivious to the passing danger. They will
nest in fields of corn or grass and on roadsides but prefer sunny banks out
of the prevailing wind that catches the early morning sun; in the old days when
fields were much smaller than today, it was fairly easy for an experienced
eye to spot a nest. There is normally a run through the grass, similar to a
rabbit run but not so marked, and this will lead to a shallow scrape in the
ground and an exit run. The hen bird does like some light cover overhead.
The eggs are olive/khaki/brown in color, normally about 10 to 14; this
will vary if a hen bird has lost a nest and is laying for the second time when
it could be as few as 8 eggs. There are records of more than 16 eggs in a
nest, but this is due to a second hen laying in the same place.
The cock bird plays little part in the incubation of the eggs which takes
23 to 24 days. Once the chicks hatch both birds are very attentive: the hen
will do the broken wing act to draw away a person, a dog, or a fox from the
brood. The young will flutter at 10-11 days, fly a little at 16 days, and at 3
weeks will fly quite well. Later, when they are disturbed, they will burst into
the air, shouting, and with a series of quick wing beats followed by a glide,
will be away. They do tend to know where they are going and how to keep
safe, much to the chagrin of the hunter. At some times of the year, particularly
late summer, it is almost possible to step on a covey accidentally as they will
sit so tight that they are nearly invisible. They are ground birds, preferring
to walk or run rather than fly to cover. They love to dust bath.
Food is varied depending on the season. It can be as high as 60% vegetable
matter – weed seeds, cereals, buckwheat, clover, grasses, sugar beet, brassicas
etc, and 40% animal foods which include earthworms, slugs, beetles, ants,
spiders, snails, etc.
English partridges do not perch, although there have been rare sightings of
this. At night time they roost or ‘jug’ close together on open ground well
away from hedges and cover, lying in a rough circle or arc, heads turned
outwards. If disturbed, they will scatter in all directions, thus foiling the
intruder as well as avoiding collision among themselves. Evidence of this is
quite easy to see when the ground is frosty. They were frequently poached
at night because they sat so tight.
Mutations in color are rare but do occur in English partridges. Albino birds
are seen from time to time, and a covey of black partridges was spotted in
Warwickshire near the village of Barton in 1970.