The partridge in the song Twelve Days of Christmas most likely refers to the Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix), a species native to Britain. If the song originated in France, it could also refer to the Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), a species introduced to England in 1790 (after the song was written). The Gray Partridge has been successfully introduced into parts of North America.
Gray PartridgePerdix perdix
Because of its popularity as a gamebird in Europe, the Gray Partridge was brought to North America as early as the 1790s, although it was not really established here until later. It has been most successful on the northern prairies, where it often does very well in farm country. Gray Partridges live in flocks, or coveys, at most times of year. Even where they are common, they often go unseen as they forage in the tall grass.
Field MarksA rotund grayish partridge, larger than a quail; when flushed, note the short rufous tail, rusty face, chestnut bars on sides. Male has a dark, U-shaped splotch on the belly.
Size12-14" (30-35 cm)
Similar SpeciesChukar (which also has a rufous tail) has a red bill and feet and a black "necklace."
VoiceA loud, hoarse kar-wit, kar-wit.
RangeEurasia. Introduced in North America.
MigrationNorth American populations apparently do not migrate. Some in eastern Europe may move south in particularly harsh weather.
HabitatCultivated land, hedgerows, bushy pastures, meadows. Mostly lives in grasslands and agricultural fields. Farmland is excellent habitat as long as hedgerows and shelterbelts are left between fields. In winter often in stubble fields, moving into edges of woodlots in harsh weather.
FeedingDiet: Mostly seeds, also leaves and insects. Eats seeds from a wide variety of plants, including many grasses and weeds, also waste grain from crops such as wheat, oats, corn, sunflower. Seeds are most of diet in fall and winter; eats more green leaves in spring, insects in summer. Young chicks eat mostly insects.
Behavior: Forages in coveys most of year, alone or in pairs in spring. Takes most food from ground. In winter, may burrow into snow to reach seeds on ground.
NestingIn courtship, male flicks tail up and down, puffs out chest feathers to display dark belly patch and barred flanks; female approaches with bobbing movements of head.
Nest: Site is on ground among dense cover, sometimes in open field but more often under hedgerow or shelterbelt or on brushy roadside. Nest (built by female) is a shallow scrape lined with grass, leaves.
Eggs: Usually 12-18, sometimes up to 22 or more, sometimes fewer than 10. Fewer eggs in later clutches. Eggs buff, brown, or olive. Incubation begins after last egg is laid; until that time, eggs are covered with grass and weeds. Incubation by female only, 21-26 days.
Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young feed themselves. Young can make short flights at 1-2 weeks; full-grown at 3-4 months, remain with parents through first winter.
ConservationNorth American population may be lower now than in 1950s, but still widespread, common in many areas.