Introduced to the United Kingdom in the 1600s, the Red-legged Partridge is an ornate little gamebird that forages in arable farmland. Millions of birds are released each year for hunting, but these continental natives also occur in self-sustaining naturalised populations.
Red-legged Partridges are attractive gamebirds with bright red legs, bills, and rings around their eyes. They have a white eyebrow stripe and a white chin and throat, surrounded by a bold black ring that passes through each eye.
They are plain brown on the back, wings, and crown but have pale sides marked with long black and brown bars. A broad black and white ‘necklace’ covers the breast and sides of the neck. Their belly, vent, and undertail are warm cinnamon, and the breast is blue-grey.
Females are very similar to males, although they are slightly smaller and lack leg spurs.
Juveniles attain adult-like plumage when they are about four months old. Before then, they are smaller and duller, with indistinct markings on the head and throat and pinkish-brown legs and bills.
This species could be confused with the indigenous Grey Partridge, although the combination of red legs and bill and contrasting black and white head and throat markings are distinctive.
Red-Legged Partridge in natural habitat
These small, chunky gamebirds are larger than the Grey Partridge but smaller than the Pheasant.
Red-legged Partridges measure 32 to 38 centimetres from tail to bill. They are stocky, short-necked birds with fairly short legs and tails.
Adults weigh 400 to 550 grams, and males tend to be the heavier sex.
These ground birds have short, broad wings and a 47 to 50-centimetre wingspan.
Flock of Red-Legged Partridges resting on a fallen tree trunk
Red-legged Partridges produce harsh scratchy chuckling calls. Their territorial call starts off softly but builds to a loud series of rhythmic two or three-noted ‘chuk-chuk’ phrases. Flushed birds make a higher-pitched, shrieking alarm call.
Red-Legged Partridge shrieking
Red-legged Partridges are mainly vegetarian, although they do eat ants and other invertebrates in the summer. Grasses, roots, seeds, leaves, and fruits are important in their diet.
Chicks eat more arthropod invertebrates than adults, but they also eat grain, weed seeds, flowers, and leaves.
Red-Legged Partridge adult foraging with chicks
Red-legged Partridges live in various open, dry habitats ranging from farmland to stony mountain slopes. They are most common in lowland arable farmland in the United Kingdom.
Red-legged Partridges are native to Europe, where they occur primarily in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy. They are a widespread introduced species in the United Kingdom, naturalised in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Red-legged Partridges live on the ground in open, dry countryside. They can fly, although they prefer to run from danger.
About 72,500 pairs of Red-legged Partridges nest in the UK. However, their numbers vary greatly through the year since millions of captive birds are released annually for hunting. This number has increased over the last few decades, with about 10 million individuals released in 2016 alone.
Red-legged Partridges are widespread in low-lying, open country, particularly in the east of England. Look out for coveys in arable farmland, pasture, and unimproved grassland.
Red-Legged Partridge near watering hole
Red-legged Partridges are relatively short-lived birds, with a maximum recorded lifespan of seven years and seven months.
Red Legged Partridges are protected by the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act and the EU Birds Directive.
Red-legged Partridges are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. This species has declined significantly in its native range due to habitat loss and overhunting.
Red-Legged Partridge standing in arable farmland
Male Red-legged Partridges build a nest on the ground in a shaded spot. It is little more than a scrape, lined with plant material. These birds may build two nests in some years, with each parent incubating a separate clutch of eggs. This behaviour increases their chance of avoiding predators.
Red-legged Partridges nest in spring. They lay their eggs in late April or May in the United Kingdom but may begin in January or February in southern Europe. The eggs hatch after 23 to 25 days, and the precocial hatchlings leave the nest soon after. The young are fully grown at about two months old but remain together as a family for their first winter.
Red-legged Partridges lay about 12 eggs per clutch on average, although up to 28 eggs have been recorded. They are whitish or yellowish with reddish spots, measuring roughly 40 millimetres long and 31 millimetres wide.
Red-legged Partridges form long-term, stable pair bonds that may last for life. They are generally monogamous, although bigamy has been recorded.
Pair of Red-Legged Partridges
Red-legged Partridges are gregarious and often seen in coveys of two or more adults and their young, although they may form large groups of 70 or more individuals. Larger flocks occur outside the breeding season, although non-mated birds remain in groups throughout the year.
Red-Legged Partridge foraging
Red-legged Partridges do not migrate. They can be seen throughout the year, although populations from high-altitude areas may move downslope for the winter.
Red-legged Partridges occasionally visit gardens, although they are most at home in open farmland. Country gardens adjacent to open fields are most likely to attract these beautiful ground birds.
Family:Pheasants and partridges
32cm to 38cm
47cm to 50cm
400g to 550g
Lady Amherst’s Pheasant
The Lady Amherst’s pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) is one of the most striking birds on the planet. A member of the Phasianidae family, these long-tailed ground birds are native to forests and woodlands in Southeast Asia but can be found in collections all over the world today. They were named after the wife of a colonial governor and were introduced into parts of England in the mid-1800s.
A large pheasant that can be found in parts of central and eastern China. It has also been introduced to parts of Europe and can be seen in France, the Czech Republic and less commonly in the UK.
The pheasant, otherwise known as the Common Pheasant or Ring Necked Pheasant, is a prolific gamebird found throughout the UK and western Europe, with many birds raised in captivity.
Grey Partridges are widespread native gamebirds from Western Europe to Central Asia, although sadly, their population has declined dramatically in the UK and most of their European range. They are often known as the Hungarian Partridge in the New World, where they were first introduced over 200 years ago.
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