A Grit Photograph

Dark birds gritting on the track
A covey gritting on the track

On her various travels as a private hire chef, my girlfriend has just returned from a week cooking for a shooting party near Braemar. She took this photograph (above) of a covey of birds on the road up to the shooting lodge, and I thought it warranted inclusion purely on account of its being a cracking picture.

Although a grouse’s grit intake is probably at its lowest during August, the fact that coveys often disperse into what would usually be described as “white ground” while the seeds and berries are on offer means that they are likely to take grit wherever they come across it. On managed moorland, grouse are provided with grit in every territory, but when coveys spill over into marginal ground during this time of “plenty”, they are a great deal more flexible about picking up grit during their day to day business.

Grouse require grit throughout the year, but depend most upon it during the cold, winter months when heather is the only foodplant worth looking at. Pick up a piece of frozen heather in February and it is hardly surprising that it needs to be mashed into a fine pulp before any goodness can be found, let alone digested. An old keeper recently told me that he had counted the pieces of grit in a grouse’s digestive system during every month of the year, and found that grouse in March have more than ten times the amount of grit in their gizzards compared to grouse in August.

We often ignore grit when we think about it in terms of its value to birds, probably because we humans have no equivalent. During the past year of keeping and breeding grey partridges, I’ve learnt just how vital grit can be for all gamebirds. While it sometimes seems like an unlikely “food group”, when the partridge grit boxes run down to empty, you find birds keenly munching down great beakfuls of stones as soon as they are topped up again.

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