|A wild game bird keeper checking insect levels in a specially created weedy habitat.|
The next two to three weeks weather will largely determine how the grey partridge’s breeding season fares this year. Peak hatching time is usually the middle two weeks of June – around Ascot week as many say!
I have already had reports of bumble bee sized chicks spotted, scurrying along behind their parents – such a wonderful sight when you come across this family scene. I have often said it before, but a truly wild pair of grey partridge’s parental skills are hard to beat in the bird world.
Should the family be threatened by a predator (including us!) often the cock bird will feign injury, flapping around and dragging what appears to be a badly broken wing. The predator is usually fooled into thinking that it is being presented with an easily caught meal and so follows the “injured” bird. Once the clever cock bird has led the hunter away from the hen bird and her chicks, he will burst into flight, leaving a somewhat bemused pursuer on its own!
Keepers who manage wild bird shoots, as opposed to rearing game birds and releasing them, have a nervous few weeks ahead now. Not only are they keeping a watchful eye for the odd fox or carrion crow that they might have missed, but many will be out sampling insect numbers around the various brood rearing crops that they have planted.
Grey partridge have to have an ample supply of small insects in order to thrive – beetles, spiders, weevils, caterpillars etc. These they need to find for themselves as they follow along behind mum and dad and so habitats that allow easy access for tiny chicks, including unfertilised, weedy cereal strips or wildflower margins, both of which are full of insect life, will have been created for them to forage in. Many other farmland birds such as Yellowhammer and Whitethroat will also use these insect rich habitats to gather beakfulls of insects for their hungry chicks.
However, despite a year’s worth of hard work tending the every need of the grey partridge, the one thing that all keepers are keeping their fingers firmly crossed for now, is reasonably warm and fair weather. Temperature is particularly important as not only will chicks be OK if it rains, but stays warm, but balmy weather also brings out lots of insects for the chicks to eat too. It is cold wet weather that is so danaging to these newly hatched chicks.
So my wish for Ascot week is that ladies wide brimmed hats do not get blown off, but are needed to keep sunburn at bay and that ice cubes are in great demand to make sure that the Pimms stays wonderfully cool!