PARTRIDGE (Du. Partrijs, Fr. perdrix, from Lat. perdix, apparently onomatopoeic from the call of the bird), a game-bird, whose English name properly denotes the only species indigenous to Britain, nowadays often called the grey partridge, the Perdix cinerea of ornithologists. The excellence of its flesh at table has been esteemed from the time of Martial. For the sport of partridge-shooting see Shooting.

The grey partridge has doubtless largely increased in numbers in Great Britain since the beginning of the 19th century, when so much down, heath, and moorland was first brought under the plough, for its partiality to an arable country is very evident. It has been observed that the birds which live on grass lands or heather only are apt to be smaller and darker in colour than the average; but in truth the species when adult is subject to a much greater variation in plumage than is commonly supposed, and the well-known chestnut horseshoe-mark, generally considered distinctive of the cock, is very often absent. In Asia the grey partridge seems to be unknown, but in the temperate parts of Eastern Siberia its place is taken by a very nearly allied form, P. barbata, and in Tibet there is a bird, P. hodgsoniae, which can hardly with justice be generically distinguished from it.

The common red-legged partridge of Europe, generally called the French partridge, Caccabis rufa, seems to be justifiably considered the type of a separate group. This bird was introduced into England in the last quarter of the 18th century, and has established itself in various parts of the country, not withstanding a widely-spread, and in some respects unreasonable, prejudice against it. It has certainly the habit of trusting nearly as much to its legs as to its wings, and thus incurred the obloquy of old-fashioned sportsmen, whose dogs it vexatiously kept at a running point; but, when it was also accused of driving away the grey partridge, the charge only showed the ignorance of those who brought it, for as a matter of fact the French partridge rather prefers ground which the common species avoids—such as the heaviest clay-soils or the most infertile heaths. The French partridge has several congeners, all with red legs and plumage of similar character. In Africa north of the Atlas there is the Barbary partridge, C. petrosa; in southern Europe another, C. saxatilis, which extends eastward till it is replaced by C. chukar, which reaches India, where it is a well-known bird. Two very interesting desert-forms, supposed to be allied to Caccabis, are the Ammoperdix heyi of North Africa and Palestine and the A. bonhami of Persia; but the absence of the metatarsal knob, or incipient spur, suggests (in our ignorance of their other osteological characters) an alliance rather to the genus Perdix. On the other hand the groups of birds known as Francolins and Snow-Partridges are generally furnished with strong but blunt spurs, and therefore probably belong to the Caccabine group. Of the former, containing many species, there is only room here to mention the francolin, which used to be found in many parts of the south of Europe, Francolinus vulgaris, which also extends to India, where it is known as the black partridge. This seems to have been the Attagas or Attagen of classical authors,[1] a bird so celebrated for its exquisite flavour, the strange disappearance of which from all or nearly all its European haunts still remains inexplicable. It is possible that this bird has been gradually vanishing for several centuries, and if so to this cause may be attributed the great uncertainty attending the determination of the Attagen—it being a common practice among men in all countries to apply the name of a species that is growing rare to some other that is still abundant. Of the snow-partridges, Tetraogallus, it is only to be said here that they are the giants of their kin, and that nearly every considerable range of mountains in Asia seems to possess its specific form.

By English colonists the name Partridge has been very loosely applied, and especially so in North America. Where a qualifying word is prefixed no confusion is caused, but without it there is sometimes a difficulty to know whether the Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) or the Virginia Quail (Ortyx virginianus) is intended. In South America the name is given to various Tinamous (q.v.).

(A. N.)

  1. Many naturalists have held a different opinion, some making it a woodcock, a godwit, or even the hazel-hen or grouse; see the discussion by Lord Lilford in Ibis (1862), pp. 352–356.