Partridge Populations Down 91 Percent in Germany

​​​​Incredibly, the Germans are not even able to preserve the Partridge (Perdix perdix) in their natural or cultural landscapes. Picture: Calling Partridge cock - Rolfes/djv

By dpa/et - 28. November 2019

It used to be found "on every field". But now the Partridge is one of the most declimated wild bird species in Germany. According to experts, it can be helped locally – but there is no real hope.

In the past, one accidentally spooked a group of Partridges in the field, which then flew up with loud and typical wing-flapping. But now the former hunting-bird species is threatened and could die out despite support measures.

Conservation biologist Eckhard Gottschalk from the University of Göttingen tells us: Such surprising encounters between humans and these birds are a thing of the past.

"These times are long gone," says the researcher from the University of Göttingen. The animals that once basically belonged "to every field" have suffered a more dramatic loss of population in recent decades than almost any other bird species.

Population density drastically decreased in 36 years

Partidge stocks across Germany declined by a good 91 percent between 1980 and 2016, according to the German Avifaunists Association (DDA). Only the Kiebitz surpasses this dramatic decline with more than 93 percent – the Turtle Dove comes in third place with just under 89 percent. They share the same fate as the Partridge: "These are all species of open landscapes," explains Sven Trautmann of the DAA. They breed on farmland and they have to find their food there.

In view of the dramatic decline, representatives from agriculture, science, nature conservation, hunting, politics and administration are meeting in Rottenburg near Tübingen to discuss the protection of ground-living birds. The Partridge is considered to be threatened with extinction in Baden-Württemberg, and according to Gottschalk, it is "in the second highest category of the Red List: highly endangered."

"Actually, there are three main causes," explains the conservation biologist. First, he mentions the decline of insects. "The chicks live on insects and on the intensively cultivated agricultural areas the Partridge no longer finds sufficient food."

Thus, the habitat for the Partridge is becoming increasingly scarce, which is another cause. This makes the birds at the same time (point three) more vulnerable to predators like the fox. Because foxes can easily track down the Partridges in the few places suitable for them.

Project creates habitat for Partridges

With a project, the bird protection centre of the Mössingen Nature Conservation Association in the district of Tübingen is trying to provide Partridges with more suitable habitat. "It takes fallow structures – it needs cover all year round," explains Sabine Geißler-Strobel of the Neckartal Biodiversity Initiative. Improvement is provided by perennial flowering fields, for example, because they offer safe breeding grounds and food until winter. "What in general is promoted in the country at the moment are mainly just one-year fallow land systems." For Partridges and many other species, these do have no benefits.

Warum das Rebhuhn aussterben könnte. Rebhuhn im Gehege: Innerhalb von 36 Jahren nahmen die Bestände des Rebhuhn um gut 91 Prozent ab. (Quelle: dpa/Sina Schuldt)

Within 36 years, the stocks of Partridge decreased by a good 91 percent. (Source: Partridge in the enclosure: Sina Schuldt/dpa)

An excursion to the newly created habitats in the district is planned for the conference participants. But Geißler-Strobel doesn't bother to hope to meet Partridges: "At the moment they are in the cover during the day and therefore we probably won't get them."

But at least they are there again: Partridges have settled due to the support measures. "Now we have twelve precincts in one area," says Geißler-Strobel, "so the calling cocks, we hope, will be paired." In 2017 there were six precincts, last year eleven.

Areas for Partridges also promote other animal species

"When we take measures for the Partridge, we also promote a whole range of other species," says conservation biologist Gottschalk. Where the Partridge still lives, many other species could also live – apart from the birds this also applies to the field hare. "The Partridge is also a good indicator of an intact landscape."

But the chances are not good in his opinion: "I fear that the Partridge as a wild bird of the normal landscape disappears and we may then have only such reserves, where we can still keep the Partridges with intensive measures." In many places, the Partridge has finally disappeared completely. "You have to be lucky when you meet a Partridge, because they hide well. To see one is really a stroke of luck."

From the German original translated and edited by: ecoterra

Partridge (Perdix perdix)

Immigrated from the steppe regions of Asia after the ice ages, the partridge has been an integral part of our cultural landscape since the beginning of agriculture in Europe. Due to the intensification of agriculture in recent decades, it is finding less and less richly structured habitat. Its future depends more and more mainly on man and his form of land use.

Indicator

  • The partridge is about pigeon-sized
  • Short-haul flier and running bird
  • It has short, wide wings and a short tail.
  • The rooster and hen are similarly colored: back and wing-covers are grey-brown, head and neck are rust-red, the belly often has a dark brown spot
  • Size: 26-32 cm, Weight: 300 to 450 grams

Distribution and position in the zoological system

  • Widespread in parts of western, central, southern and southeastern Europe, in the east to Siberia. It is naturalized in North America.
  • It still occurs almost everywhere in Germany.
  • The partridge belongs to the class of birds (Aves), to the order of the hen-birds (Galliformes) and to the family of pheasant-birds (Phasianidae) - like the quail.

Habitat

  • The partridge is the typical field chicken. It avoids the forest and spends the night covered on the ground in the field.
  • It needs a rich vegetation: not too large field areals, weed-rich field areas and road edges, old grass strips, fallow land, low bushes and hedges.
  • dry-warm climate
  • the formerly widespread cultivation of potatoes and turnips offers very good conditions (cover and protection against weather and enemies)

Food

  • They feed on buds, shoots, grain and weed seeds, but also insects and other small animals.
  • In the first weeks of life, the chicks need 95 percent animal protein and therefore feed mainly on insects, important are ant nests at the edges of the field
  • Like all chicken birds, they pick up stomach stones to rub hard food in the muscle stomach.
  • The water demand is covered by food.


Sensory services and utterances

  • The eye-sight and hearing are good.
  • Sense of smell is hardly pronounced.
  • The Latin name perdix is probably derived from the lure call, from the alarm call rep, rep, rep the German name.
  • In addition to the characteristic call „Kirr-ek“, courtly cocks also make growling sounds.
  • Young chicks are beeping.

Reproduction and life expectancy

  • Pairing takes place in early spring, they live monogamously.
  • Egg laying: At the end of April, beginning of May, in a nest that is located in a simple bottom trough.
  • Only when the nest is complete (8 to 24 olive-colored eggs), the hen begins to breed.
  • After 24 to 26 days, the first chicks hatch.
  • During the breeding season, the rooster keeps watch.
  • If the nest is lost, the hen lays eggs again (so-called re-laying).
  • The chicks are nest refugees and can fly short distances after only 14 days. Hen and rooster lead the chicks together.
  • The family stays together over the winter until the courtship season in the pre-spring.
  • Many animals die in the first year of life. The age in the wild is two to three, in enclosures 6 to 7 years.

Dangers

  • Wet-cold weather in spring and summer as well as snowy winters are life-threatening. Protection from wetness and cold offer large-leaved plants such as rhubarb and huflattich.
  • The plumage soaks in continuous rain, the partridges then die of hypothermia. During short rain showers, the hen takes the chicks under its wings.
  • Enemies: domestic predators (e.g. fox, badger, martens, birds of prey), but also stray dogs, cats and possibly raccoon-dog (Nyctereutes procyonides Gray) and raccoon.
  • Nests are endangered by crows, foxes, raccoon-dogs, raccoons, martens, hedgehogs and agricultural machinery.
  • Impairment of the food supply by plant protection products - pesticides.
  • The stock of partridge has been declining sharply for years. Causes: changed habitats, increase in predators, unfavourable weather conditions

The Partridge in the Federal Hunting Act

  • Hunting season: 1 September - 15 December
  • some federal states refrain from hunting


Sources

 

  • Cramp, S. et al. (1987): Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Vol. II Hawks to Bustards. Oxford University Press.
  • DJV