Every day seems to make my partridges more aggressive. I have five hens and four cocks, and after dividing up three pairs, I left the two remaining hens in with the last cock overnight on Saturday while I set up some alternative accomodation for the last pair. They were all in the same pen which I have gradually been emptying as and when I can organise new arrangements for the pairs, and given that they’ve been in together since August, I decided that an another twenty four hours could hardly hurt. This morning, I found that one of the hens had totally battered the other one into submission. Even as I watched, the stronger hen chased the weaker one round and round the 8 foot by 12 foot pen, tugging tufts of feathers off her whenever she tried to double back or hide. The cock stood in the middle with his head stretched up, calling with great excitement. Although none of the pairs can see each other, as soon as one cock calls, all the others call back. It means that at first light each morning, there is quite a cacophony of partridge calls in the garden.
Clearly, the dominant hen had staked her claim on the cock and would not rest until her competition was driven off or annihilated. In the wild I suppose the weaker hen would have scarpered, but being stuck in the pen meant that she was subject to far more violence than she ever would have been out on the hill. By the time I had set up a little A-frame for her elsewhere, she was bleeding from her oil gland and was in quite a bad way. She seems to have perked up now, but it came pretty close to losing her altogether.
It seems that the hens are far more aggressive and domineering than the cocks, and although most of the birds are now quite happily paired, two of the cocks look a little battered and bruised. I will have to keep an eye on them.
In the meantime, my questionable joinery skills have been called upon to create a breeding pen for one lucky pair of birds. Increasingly, I depend for my partridge related information upon the GCT(as they were then)’s Complete Book of Game Conservation, which is an amalgam of all the old GCT green guides. This book is an absolute fount of knowledge, and I spent most of yesterday copying the design of a breeding pen which was specifically designed for grey partridges.
Eight feet long by four feet wide, the little pen has a dark area for laying at one end, an improvised awning made out of old feed bags and plenty of outdoor space for a breeding pair. I am not one of nature’s carpenters, but I was pretty happy with how it all turned out. It was only when I came to move it out into the garden that I realised how bad at joinery I am. Anyone can build something out of wood, but it takes an experienced craftsman to make something light. The pen is extremely heavy, and it took a concerted period of grunting and shoving to even get it out of the shed. I’m sure the GCT’s design was lightweight and easy to move around, but my version will be a great deal more static. I’ll be able to move it onto fresh ground now and again, but picking it up under one arm and slinging it around is out of the question.
The partridges seem very settled in it already, and I like the way the design allows for them to creep quietly away when you approach. Although I didn’t think they’d like the dark box at one end, they seem to enjoy lingering around in there, and I suppose it gives them a feeling of privacy and security. I could do with a few more of these pens, but given the cost of wood and the time it took me to make, the other pairs will have to make do with their perfectly adequate but slightly less glamorous quarters.