Courtesy of david galavan CC BY -SA 2.0 License.


The grey partridge also known as the English partridge, Hungarian partridge or simply Hun.They belong to the family Phasanidae in the Order of birds known as Gallifiorms from galluna meaning a hen. the genus Perdix is a genus of partridges with representatives in most of temperate Europe.

It is a bird of open country and is a non-migratory species, which is suffering a rapid decline in populations numbers here in the UK. {see conservation issues below. 

Grey partridge description

I will commence this review with a description  of the grey partridge

Photograph courtesy of SriMesh Creative Commons Share Alike     .Grey partridge


The plumage of the grey partridge is brown with dark and light markings. The head is of a rufous colour as is the tail. they have bars on the flanks. the breast is grey the males sport a horseshoe markings on the breast. The face is reddish orange.The bill is a greenish horn colour. The under parts are mainly grey the legs a pinkish grey. The bird is smaller than the related pheasant with a more rotund body and a smaller head.

In relation to the size of its body the wings are medium to short, the tail is short, the neck medium to short, the bill short and the legs are of a medium length. The body is 29-31 cms  long and they weigh between 330-420g.

Grey partridge calling its familiar call. Photograph courtesy of Marek szczepanek Creative Commons Share alike

Life style of the grey partridge

One of the most delightful sounds on a warm summers evening in the English countryside is the "Karikrikre" call of the partridge carried across the still air from a concealed location. This call is quite different from the harsh gutteral complaining note of males calling in early spring to attract females from the family groups.

Little companies of these birds known as coveys tend to stay together until they are broken up by continuous shooting or the breeding season is upon them. When a covey is startled they take off as a one with the parent birds leading the way. however, some birds will skulk, others rely on their powerful legs to run and some almost allow you tread on them before taking to the wing. Even when they fly  they tend to fly low hugging the ground  before disappearing over the horizon or boundary hedge.

Studies have revealed that when coveys are at roost during the day time they choose a  high piece of land. They tend to crouch in a circle with their tails pointing towards the centre and their heads pointing outwards. In this manner they have many pairs of eyes and ears aware of any approaching danger from which ever distance it may approach.

At night many birds will fly to a more secure site such as a ploughed field with deep furrows where they can remain concealed crouched low to the ground  During the daylight hours the birds keep a short distance between themselves as they feed. In Britain the coveys never stray to far and feed within their own territories.

The diet of the partridge consists of insects, grain,leaves, shoots, weeds and buds, and the young are very fond of caterpillars. During drought conditions or harsh winters the birds use their powerful feet to scratch the ground to procure their food concealed beneath the surface. 

The related pheasant is a much larger bird Bottom Top Grey partridge . Image courtesy of Omar Runolfsson CC BY-SA 2.0 License.

Courtesy of honan4108. CC BY-SA 2.0 License.


The shooting season ends in January. Soon after the males leave their coveys and seek out females from other groups. The males start displaying during February by stretching up and showing off the horseshoe markings on their breast, while uttering their grating  call.

Once a female has been chosen they will remain loyal to each other until the season has ended. The nest, such as it is, for it tends to be just a shallow scrape in the ground, under a hedge or in dense vegetation, and lined with dry grasses, dry leaves or similar vegetation, is made in late March or early April.

The eggs are laid from Mid April and vary in number from 6-20 but I have known a hen to raise 20 young successfully , however, this was a "made up" with eggs from a deserted nest being added to her own. The partridge only raises one clutch per season although replacement clutches are produced if the first clutch is lost to predation or the weather.

The eggs are incubated by the females for 23-25 days. She will only start to incubate the eggs when the last one is laid. if she has to leave the nest for to feed or relieve herself the bird covers the eggs with grass or other vegetation to conceal them from prying eyes. 

The eggs are of an olive green colour but another common variety  is bluish green similar to a variety laid by the pheasant.  In common with other game birds the entire clutch of the partridge will hatch within the space of a few hours. From the moment they hatch the young are active and follow their mother.

The parents will lead them to cereal crops or vegetation thus being able to move around unseen. By the time the chicks are ten days old they are capable of fluttering their wings enough to flutter from the ground. By the time they are 15 days old they are capable of sustained flight. if they are going to survive predation and the shootoing season which begins in August they will breed themselves at one year old.

Partridge's are at home among cereal crops where the young can feed  unseen or in open rough grassland.

Conservation issues.

The grey partridges is primarily a game bird and over the last 50 years the number of shoots have decreased. it is ironic that this fact has contributed to the decline. This is due to less birds being reared and released and loss of habitat due to change of land use when shoots no longer occur on them.

Intensive farming and the use of insecticides and other changes in land use have all contributed to the decline.

According to estimates in the 1980s the population number at that time was 150,000 pairs but declining. The latest estimates in 2000, was 70-75,000 pairs.

The grey partridge is now on the Red list of Conservation Concern and as such is a Priority Species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plans. An action plan for the species has been formulated and is currently being implemented in the UK. The aims of this plan is to halt and eventually reverse the declines in the population numbers of this species. 

Conservation Status-UK-2021

UK-Red List- priority species due to declines of over 50% in population/distribution over the last fifty years or so.

Europe- Species of least concern 

The American willow ptarmigan is a relative of the partridge photograph courtesy of John Shadle Creative Commons Share Alike.

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