Summit Outside: Partridges: An old-world species
Bob Karcz, photographer, sent me this lovely photograph of a partridge he photographed in his backyard in Silverthorne. During a cold winter day, they puffed up to keep warm. He identified it as a Chukar partridge, but upon further examination of various pictures available, the bird photographed seems to look closer to a red-legged or French partridge. One source describes the Chukar as having red legs and bills and Chukars and grey partridges as having been first introduced to America in 1889. The Colorado Division of Wildlife says the Chukar was introduced to Colorado in 1937. The picture on their site, of a Chukar, differs from the picture of the partridge Bob took, as the bird in the picture does not have the white band under the crown of the head, whereas the red-legged partridge does. The North American Game bird Association also lists the Chukar Partridge but not the red legged. In any case, somebody introduced this partridge to Colorado, and it was photographed here in Summit County. They are considered a non-migratory, old world species. When one thinks of partridges, what immediately comes to mind is the Christmas Carol, “The 12 Days of Christmas” and the refrain: “And a partridge in a pear tree.” If the English version of “partridge in a pear tree” is to be taken literally, then the chant comes from France, since the red-legged (or French) partridge, perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge, and it was not successfully introduced into England about 1770. The English word “partridge” came from the Greek “Perdix,” the name of a king in Greek mythology. Legend has it that both Perdix and the goddess Athena had sacred connections to the pear tree, and when Perdix was cast into the ocean, he ascended into heaven as a bird in the arms of Athena; thus, he was a partridge in a pear tree. Later, Christian Europeans used the partridge as a symbol for Christ.
Partridges are medium-sized birds, intermediate between the larger pheasants and the smaller quail, and there are about 50 species of partridges worldwide. They are 10-14 inches long and weigh less than 1 pound. Both sexes of the partridge tend to look alike. The partridge scurry quickly over the ground to avoid predators, using its deep chest to propel itself.Partridges inhabit open, rocky, sagebrush-grassland areas on dry mountain slopes and canyons. During hot weather, they concentrate near water, by springs, seeps and intermittent streams. They will disperse when the surrounding vegetation greens up after a rain. In winter, they need south-facing slopes, free of deep snow. In the southern portions of their range, they may be found in saltbush-grassland habitats.During mid-March, birds pair off for mating. Nests are concealed in shallow depressions scratched in the ground and lined with dried grasses and feathers, usually hidden under shrubs or well concealed by rocks and brush. The female will lay 10 to 20 yellow-white eggs, spotted or speckled with brown, and incubate them for 24 days. Pairs produce only one brood per year, but will re-nest to succeed at producing young. Females tend the nest and males leave to form bachelor groups, only occasionally remaining with the female. Broods leave the nest from late May to mid-June, and the young follow the female who shows them what to eat, but does not feed them. The young can fly short distances in two to three weeks. Families join in large groups in the late summer. Partridges exist on insects and various greens. This bird most often forages for food in areas close to home. During the summer and fall, they feed primarily on seeds as well as grass blades, stems and buds of a variety of plants, wild onion seeds, grasshoppers and caterpillars.The partridge is a popular game bird around the world and there are numerous recipes for partridge and/or the ruffled grouse. The “ruffled grouse” is often called a “partridge,” but they are only distantly related. Apparently partridge tastes more similar to chicken than grouse. There are guided partridge hunting trips in Colorado, which indicates that this is a thriving species in the state. There have been some successful attempts to raise partridges domestically.An Armenian poem begins: “The sun has touched the mountain’s crest, The partridge rises from her nest, And down the hillside tripping fast, Greets all the flowers as she goes past.” In a Native American legend there was a saying “And he was a Partridge, who after the manner of his kind had been wintering under a snowdrift, and now came forth to greet the pleasant spring.”The name “partridge” was made popular by the TV program “The Partridge Family” and is not an uncommon family name. The word “partridge” been used frequently in disambiguation for eating, retail establishments, buildings, and places.Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is retired from teaching microbiology Rutgers University, and has taught classes at CMC. She is now pursuing a career in art, specializing in nature and many of the animals she writes about. Her work can be seen locally.
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