Interesting to see that my grey partridges are getting harder and harder to hold as the first frosts come in. Some of the birds have now been out on the hill for four months since they were only a few days old, and as much as I have been able to heft them into certain areas and foster them on to ex-layer parents, the past few weeks has seen them wandering further afield. I can only attribute this to the huge abundance of feeding currently available on the farm.
As I have found to my delight, partridges really enjoy eating the various juncus seeds associated with dense rush beds, and as these have ripened, the entire farm has become a huge banquet. Why would they restrict themselves to one particular location when idle browsing throughout the day gradually pulls them here and there wherever they will? They are not deserting particular areas out of choice, since once one covey has left another usually takes its place, suggesting that there is no “mass migration” and more a movement to and fro.
One covey of twenty two has moved almost two miles down the valley, being replaced by another of five. During this rush seed bonanza, the turnip game crop has been almost entirely deserted, so I decided to insert an “autumn covey” of thirteen poults which have been hatched and reared by their captive parents. These coveys form very close and cohesive bonds which should keep them together, and they are almost the next best thing to wild birds. I hope to produce more of these next year so that I can pull away from hatching everything under broodie hens and concentrate on parent reared poults. I will keep on with the broodies because they certainly have a part to play, but I think there is more “bang” from the buck when you let the layers rear their own.
As these coveys move around the farm, I am very pleased with the (touch wood) very low predation levels. I have found two dead in the past four months, and have only lost three others to an undetermined cause. Perhaps the nature of hill country is more forgiving on partridges, considering that the only way I can tell where they are most of the time is by listening for the calls in the rushes.
As the winter progresses, I will set up feeders and prepare for the formation of breeding pairs. With this many partridges going around, I will certainly lose the huge majority when the pairing up process begins, but if I can hold on to a few pairs until February or March, I will be very pleased. I then have plans to release “spring pairs” together and can start to focus on producing poults to foster onto them in the summer if they fail to produce.
From what I have been able to read and gather together, reintroducing grey partridges is a complex game indeed, so far removed from the “bung them down and hope for the best” short term philosophy of red-legs. Releasing is a year-round process, and there is a huge amount of strategy and forward thinking involved. Some of my birds have now been on the hill for more than a year, and although nothing seems to have produced properly wild offspring in 2013, there are a number of explanations. It is slightly disappointing that they should have failed to capitalise on one of the best breeding years for wild game that I can ever remember, but the optimist in me can’t resist hoping for the same again next year.