Partridge Reproduction and Mortality Rate
When summer comes, males leave their coveys and wander – sometimes long distances – in search of females to spend the rest of their lives with. Females usually stay in their coveys, and thus the arrival of males leads to mixing of the existing families.
Then the pairs that were created, separate themselves from the groups for the time of brooding, that is from the end of February until the end of June. During this time individual territories are created, and their boundaries are vehemently guarded by the male within the pair.
When a male meets another male close to the boundary, it often leads to very violent fights and calls. The birds fight, pecking and hitting with their wings and legs, aiming for the opponent’s head. It sometimes happens that a lone female is exiled or attacked.
Courtship displays in groups are ‘superficial’, which means males can fight for a female but the decision to choose one of them and move away belongs to the female only. What is characteristic for the species is the so called ‘partridges’ wedding’ – a congregation of several or more groups of partridges in one place which facilitates creating pairs.
Actual courtship displays take place significantly later, when the pair has spent more time together and is isolated. The male circles around the female and fluffs his feathers, pulls his wings down and calls frequently. The female answers in quiet squeaks, announcing her approval for copulation.
The nest is built at the beginning of May. Its diameter is 15 cm and its depth – from 7 to 19 cm. It is built in a dug out hole, that is covered with leaves and grass. An ideal place for a nest is shadowed with canopy of vegetation, hedges or thick vegetation. Partridges sometimes build trial nests – holes that are regularly visited to prospect which place is the best for nesting.
After laying 10 to 20 eggs, a female usually covers them with thick layer of dry plants. It is done, however, only after two eggs are in the nest. When there is only one egg, it is uncovered for several first days, to check if a given place is appropriate for brood rearing. It is easy to scare away a female, but when first brood is lost, she can start over again another one quite fast, although it will be significantly smaller.
In years 1995 – 2001 in western Poland research was carried out with the use of telemetry. 64 pairs of birds were marked, to describe the process of rearing the brood. The result of the research confirmed that about 80% of nests were situated in hedgerows, clusters of wild plants, and the rest 20% in grains.
The number of eggs was also observed. In the first clutch there was on average 20 eggs (max. 24), while the second clutch consisted often of 14. The breeding success reached 90%, where the highest number of eggs were from the repeated brood after losing first brood between (June and July).
If a female is forced to leave her nest, she always hides the eggs. Also, when she incubates, she covers herself with dry grass to make herself unnoticeable and to mask her scent.
A female sits on a nest for 23 to 35 days. The male is always close, vigilant, reminding the female when she should leave to rest and eat. After hatching, both parents take care of chicks, they also both lead them. There are instances when a male, in order to protect his family, attacked an opponent bigger than himself.
Partridges are precocial birds, young birds very quickly learn to fly – 15 days after hatching. After 3 months, that is since the second half of September, young partridges reach the weight of adults. Until winter they stay with their parents in the group. They reach reproductive maturity after one year.
During the next spring from being born they leave their family group, but they never move further away than several kilometres from the place of hatching. After rearing the brood partridges live in a family flock consisting of two parents (starks) and their offspring. As the winter nears, the group is joined by other singular birds that from various reasons didn’t have broods or lost them.
In comparison to reproduction rate, death rate is very high. Average life length of a partridge that survived until August is only 7 months.
Due to many complex factors, which include: predation, unfavourable weather, farming, the age of sexual maturity is reached by only 14% to 20% of the birds. At the very beginning, alongside the egg production, the loss rate is that of 25%. Most commonly it is caused by haymaking or predators. In the first instance, females often die with brood crouching over the nest. Death rate caused by hunting does not exceed 10%. The worst cause of death that kills partridges is the severe winter, when losses often reach the level of 80 – 90%.
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