Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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The red-legged partridge, which is gray, black, and chestnut in color, is native to continental Europe.

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

What is a partridge?

Plump, midsize birds with curved bills, partridges live in a variety of habitats around the world, including forests, grasslands, and rocky plains.

Despite what you may have heard about pear trees, the 56 partridge species are ground-dwellers, using their short, sturdy legs and strong claws to dig for food or make nests. These pheasant relatives generally run quickly, though they will burst into flight if danger looms.

Adults eat seeds, leaves, and invertebrates, while chicks feed mostly on insects. Some species, such as the gray partridge and the chukar, eat only plants.

For nostalgic TV fans, “partridge” isn’t actually a family. It’s a genus within the family Phasianidae, which includes partridges, pheasants, turkeys, grouse, francolins, and Old World quail.

Mating and reproduction

All partridges form monogamous pair bonds, though courtship strategies differ among species.

Male chukars, native to North America, Europe, and the Middle East, court females by walking around them and striking various poses, sometimes with one wing sweeping the ground. In North America and Europe, gray partridge females initiate courtship, bowing to the male, bobbing their heads, and rubbing their necks against his.

When it’s time to nest, females will scrape a depression in the ground and line it with plant material, while males will often stay close by to guard the nest.

Some species, like Europe’s rock partridges and red-legged partridges, occasionally lay two clutches of eggs in separate nests, possibly as insurance against predation. The male incubates one clutch, while the female guards the other.

Around 23 days later, the chicks hatch with open eyes, downy feathers, and the ability to run—all vital defenses against ground predators, such as foxes. Gray partridge chicks, for example, can leave the nest within hours of hatching. Young can generally fly within 15 days, and they reach their adult weight by three months of age.

An exception is the crested wood partridge of Southeast Asia, whose chicks stay in the nest and are fed by their parents for about a week.

Conservation status

Of the 56 species, 37 are considered "of least concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Even so, 43 species are decreasing in population.

For instance, though gray partridges are listed as of least concern, in Britain, the species plummeted by 91 percent between 1967 and 2010 due to threats such as herbicides and pesticides, which can harm chicks.

In China’s south-central Sichuan Province, the endangered Sichuan partridge may have as few as a thousand individuals left in the wild. The forest-dwelling bird has suffered from habitat loss, particularly due to illegal logging.