Some interesting things are happening to my grey partridges. The way that they are behaving now seems to have a great deal to do with the order in which they were released.
Within hours of putting the birds up on the hill, a single hen had managed to escape from the pen. I have no idea how she managed it, but she scuttled round and round until two more hens were released about ten days later. These three hens immediately made a very close bond and became inseperable. They were never more than a few feet apart, and I found that when they went down to roost, they were touching each other.
Ten days later, I let out a cock and a hen. These two new arrivals were made fairly unwelcome by the established trio of hens, and only after a week did the two groups begin to join up and spend time together. When they had become an established group of five, I let out two more cocks who just never really gelled with the larger group. They followed behind the five, but slept some distance apart and didn’t seem to develop any rapport with them at all. Three days ago, they vanished altogether. I assumed that, because they weren’t accepted, they had paid the penalty of going it alone and something had taken them or scared them away.
I went up to see where they were all settling this evening and accidentally flushed the group of five from beside one of their feed hoppers. They flew two hundred yards, then pitched into the rushes on the margins of the field. Sitting on the roof of the car with the binoculars, I listened in as they made their way back to the release pen, chirruping and skreiking to the cock and two hens who are still acting as call birds.
There was a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, but the group of five finally worked their way back to the pen and settled down in a thick patch of fallen radishes. Almost out of earshot, I heard other partridges far off to my left. By this time it was too dark to see, but on a steep bank of bracken about three hundred yards up the hill, I certainly heard grey partridges calling in the gloom, and the only explanation can be that the sound came from the two cocks. Of all the advice and information I have received about grey partridges, I must admit that it never occurred to me that the released birds would split into two groups. Neither group has decided to vanish (yet, touch wood), but it is certainly a puzzle why the birds should have fallen into factions like this. I can only assume that the four hens and a cock had established some sort of a bond which rejected the other two cocks when they were released and the compromise was that they would both stay, but just keep out of each others’ way.
I came off the hill in total confusion, hardly looking twice as a barn owl began hunting down in the reed beds and put up a snipe, who raced noisily away against the stars.