Ray Colliers Wildlife in the North – Red-legged Partridge

part 7.May.13 002It is always interesting that many of the birds introduced to the UK are extremely attractive, even flamboyant.  For example the cock pheasant, the male mandarin duck and, perhaps to slightly lesser extent, the red-legged partridge.   The mandarin ducks have come from deliberate releases  or escapes from  private collections.  As for the pheasant and red-legged partridges, they both rely heavily on large numbers introduced each year for shooting  purposes.  As for the red-legged partridge,   the photograph  shows the combination of colours even with a front view.  This bird was one of a pair that  came into my garden last week and the one in the photograph was about to tuck into the pile of peanuts I had put out for the badgers to feed on. 

Red-legged partridges were deliberately introduced  to southern Britain as long ago as 1673 as a game bird for shooting.  In Scotland the releases were much later but were  unsuccessful  because of the weather.  However,  in Scotland by 1963 commercial rearing became more widespread.  At present in the whole of  Scotland there may only be 500 pairs that survive each year so  the numbers have to be  annually augmented by large numbers of birds that are reared solely for shooting.   They are not so popular as the native grey partridge that is drastically declining.  One reason  for this is the habit of the red-legged partridge to run rather than fly and there is  not much in shooting the birds on the ground!   Many people used  to think that the grey partridge was ousted by the slightly larger red-legged partridge but this has been shown by studies not to be the case. The red-legged partridge is reared in roughly  the same way as pheasants and are much prized by sportsmen who pay large amounts of money to attend organised shoots.  The birds are mainly reared in the more suitable parts of the Highlands and are  more or less confined  to an area around Inverness and to the east.  There is a small  population up on the east coast but elsewhere they are  rather a rare bird.     The Black Isle is a good place to see them as the combination of farmland and rough grassland is ideal for them.


Red-legged partridges not  only have a problem with the Highland weather but also with predators.     This is mainly because they nest on the ground and rely on camouflage to outwit their many predators.    Carrion and hooded crows are the main culprits but the ground nests and eggs are raided by many other species  from foxes to stoats and  pine martens to badgers.  In the breeding  season the males make several shallow scrapes on the ground which are more or less depressions with very little lining.  The female then chooses one and lays 10-16 eggs.  Interestingly,  many pairs lay a second clutch and this may be brooded by the male  with the female covering the other clutch.   The end result is that if there is only one clutch of chicks both parents tend them but if there are two clutches then the male will take charge of one and the female the other.  Eventually, however, both clutches join together.  So at this time of the year if you see a pair of these partridges they will be from birds that were released  last year or even before and have survived the winter.  The male and female plumage is roughly the same but the female is slightly smaller than the male.