The Grey Partridge bird (Perdix perdix) is a gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes. It is also sometimes called the gray partridge, the grey-legged partridge, the English partridge, Hungarian partridge, or hun. The gray partridge breeds on farmland across most of Europe into western Asia and has been introduced widely into North America, across Canada and the United States.
The grey partridge is smaller than the pheasant and red legged partridge, but is bigger than the quail. The scientific name is the Latin for “partridge”, and is itself derived from Ancient Greek perdix.
Though their numbers have declined in the last few years, as per IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, they have been categorized under the conservation category of Least Concern as adequate numbers of these birds are present in the wild.
Grey Partridge Characteristics
The grey partridge is a rotund bird, 28 to 32 centimetres long, brown-backed, with grey underparts, an orange face and a chestnut belly patch. They look similar to chickens.
There is little difference between the male and female bird, although the female has a smaller belly patch. They usually weigh between 13.6 and 17.6 oz (390 and 500 g) and have a wingspan of 20.9 to 22.1 in (53 to 56 cm).
Partridges can fly but they cannot fly well, which categorizes them as a non-migratory bird.
The grey partridge has a lifespan of around 3 years.
The grey partridge is an omnivore and 95% of their diet at this stage consists of vegetarian or plant-based foods like fruits, leaves, weed seeds, roots, and flowers. The remaining 5% of the diet is fulfilled through proteins like insects and lichens. Their diet pattern can vary depending upon the type of food available, but they are more likely to eat waste grain and insects during the summer months.
Grey Partridge Behavior
They grey partridge lives in large groups, which are known as coveys. There can be 20 or more birds in a covey. Birds in a covey stay together in the entire autumn and winter season and may start to leave the covey at the beginning of January as the winter draws its end.
This bird species is not aggressive or territorial outside of the breeding season. However, they may exhibit this behavior during the breeding season. To communicate, the grey partridge makes short and scratchy calls that are not even a second long. The song is a harsh, high-pitched kieerr-ik, and when disturbed, like most of the gamebirds.
When disturbed, the grey partridge flies a short distance on rounded wings, often calling ‘rick rick rick’ as it rises. While they cannot fly well for long distances, they can fly strongly for short distances. However, they prefer to walk rather than fly.
The grey partridge is most active at dawn and dusk. They are clean and hygienic animals. They have a habit of daily grooming within their natural environment. Daily grooming keeps them clean and healthy and also helps in keeping the parasites and harmful microorganisms away.
Grey Partridge Reproduction
The grey partridge usually breeds from late April to July. They nest on a ground nest, which is not common for most other birds. They make their nests with grasses. The nest is usually in the margin of a cereal field, most commonly winter wheat.
Grey partridges are monogamous and start forming pair four months before breeding. Hens can lay up to twenty eggs in a ground nest, and incubates them for 20 to 25 days, while males guard the nest.
A baby partridge is known as a cheepeer. The young partridge are cared for by both parents. They are usually yellow-brown in color and lack the distinctive face and underpart markings of an adult partridge. The cheepeers are able to make short flights after 10 to 12 days, and can fly like an adult by 20 days.
Despite the fact that an adult grey partridge has a diet that is made up of 95% plant-based foods, during the first three weeks of their life, the partridges have to intake proteins in an abundant amount to aid the development of the bones and muscles. During this stage, more than 50% of the partridge’s diet consists of small insects, such as crickets, beetles, and larvae. The parents lead their chicks to the edges of cereal fields, where they can forage for insects.
The grey partridge reaches sexual maturity at around one year old, which is around the same time that they leave the nest.
Location and Habitat
The grey legged partridge is a bird found in the regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. They were introduced to North America as a non-native species from Europe in the early 1900s, and are quite common in Canada and the United Sates.
They make their home in cultivated land, hedgerows, bushy pastures, meadows, grasslands, and agricultural fields. The grey partridge is a non-migratory terrestrial species, which forms flocks outside the breeding season.
Grey Partridge Conservation Status
Generally, the grey partridge has a large range and is not currently threatened. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Despite this, the bird is declining greatly in numbers in areas of intensive cultivation such as Great Britain, due to loss of breeding habitat and food supplies. Their numbers have fallen by 85% in the last 25 years. Efforts are being made in Great Britain to halt the decline by creating Conservation headlands. In 1995 the Grey Partridge was nominated a Biodiversity Action plan species.
The biggest reasons for the decline in the number of grey partridge are loss of breeding habitat and and the insecticides being used on crops are reducing the insect numbers, which is an important food source for these birds.
Grey Partridge Predators
The grey partridge bird is vulnerable to predators at all stages of its life cycle. During the breeding season, unattended eggs can be taken by corvids, rats, hedgehogs, small mustelids, cats and wild boar, as well as larger predators such as foxes and badgers. Fledged juveniles and adult birds can be taken mainly by foxes, mustelids, hawks, harriers and buzzards.
They grey partridge uses its plumage to help disguise itself from predators, and also remains in groups for protection.
Grey Partridge Fun Fact
Despite the popular Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, grey partridge are mostly ground birds and are not found in pear trees!