Red-legged Partridge

Alectoris rufa

32-34cm

Appearance

This is a dumpy, attractive and well-marked bird, slightly bigger than the Grey Partridge. Males and females are similar, with red bills and legs, and a white throat with a black spotting pattern in the shape of a necklace. Its body is mostly grey-brown with white and chestnut flanks and a striped back. Juvenile birds have grey-buff plumage and are without the distinct head markings of the adult. When in flight, the wings whirr, then the bird glides on downcurved wings, revealing its red tail.

Habitat

Most common in eastern England but it is also found farther west; there are small numbers in Scotland, Wales and a few in Ireland. The Red-legged Partridge is associated with arable farmland, tending towards large open fields, especially on sandy or light soils. Can also be found on heathland and coastal grassland.

Character

This bird is quite on edge, and rightfully so since it's a common target for hunters. Usually seen in groups or 'coveys', some of which can be 40 or more birds. Perches which provide a view over their territory are common; males might use straw bales or structures such as posts. Prefers to flee danger on foot, but when it flies, it is low in the air and its wings are stiff.

Food

Majority of diet is based around the seeds, leaves and roots of agricultural land. The birds, particularly the chicks, also eat insects.

Breeding

In late April or May, the female chooses a scrape that a male has made and in it she lays 10-16 eggs. Pairs sometimes produce a second clutch which males incubate simultaneously; incubation lasts for about 23 days. If threatened, young can fly after about 10 days, but they're not at full size until 50-60 days. In cases where one clutch is laid, the birds co-parent, and where there are two, each parent tends to their own brood; families eventually join, and the young stay within their family unit for their first winter.

Population

This is a non-native bird introduced for hunting purposes. The British population is resident and majority of individuals don't wander more than a few kilometres from their hatching site. Large numbers of birds are raised and released for hunting, making it difficult to determine numbers, however there are an estimated 82 000 occupied territories in the UK and a few birds in Ireland; after the hunting release, there may be 6.5 million individuals.

Observation Tips

The vocals of the male can give them away in the spring. Small groups of birds can sometimes be seen feeding around the edges of fields.

Voice

Quite a vocal bird, uttering a loud 'ke che-che, ke che-che' call.
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