Dear Readers, first of all, happy Christmas to those of you who are celebrating! Thank you for your support, comments, contributions and general wonderfulness this year. You are an amazing bunch, and I wish you everything that you’d hope for for yourselves.
Now, what is all this about a partridge in a pear tree? For a start, partridges are ground birds, and so most unlikely to be sitting in a tree of any kind. And why a pear tree, which at this time of year would be devoid of fruit or blossom or leaves. So first, let’s look at the bird. We have two species in the UK, the increasingly rare grey partridge (Perdix perdix), which has declined by 94% in Europe over the past four decades, largely due to more intensive agriculture, and the use of pesticides which kill off the insects that the partridge chicks need to thrive.
However, in many areas it has been replaced by the red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) which was introduced to the UK from mainland Europe as a game bird (presumably as the grey partridge became rarer, there needed to be something for the usual suspects to shoot). This is a slightly larger bird, and interestingly this is the one shown on the Christmas card at the top of the post, not the native species. I imagine that gradually when someone says ‘partridge’, this is what people will think of.
However, neither of these birds is particularly likely to be in a pear tree, so what’s going on? The most likely explanation I’ve heard is that the song is a misinterpretation of the Norman French name for the bird, which is Perdrix – you can imagine that being heard as ‘per-dree’, and the rest could well be history.
How about pear trees, though? The domestic pear tree (Pyrus communis) is also an introduction, though it probably arrived over a thousand years ago, and has since made itself at home in hedgerows and woodland margins all over the country. An individual tree can live for up to a thousand years (if not cut down for HS2 like the Cubbington pear) and in China they are considered to be a symbol of immortality. Though unlikely to be harbouring any partridges of either species, the pear tree is extremely valuable for wildlife, from the blackbirds and other thrushes who feast on the fruit to the wide variety of caterpillars who munch on the leaves. The blossom is wonderful too, and if you are thinking about a small tree for the garden, you could do much worse.
So lovely readers, as promised yesterday, here is our first question. Don’t forget, submit your answers in the comments after the Twelve Days of Christmas are finished (the last question will be on the 5th of January, and you will have until 5 p.m. on Friday 7th January to post your response).
What is the link between today’s post and this lot?
Photo One by Frank Vassen from https://www.flickr.com/photos/42244964@N03/6502006513
Photo Two by Lynne Kirton / Red-legged partridge with chicks
Photo Three by Sten Porse, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
It is interesting to read about both the partridges and the pear tree. You might be interested to know that we have only one partridge recorded in our bird guides, the Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar) which is an introduced species released by customs officials on Robben Island in 1964. Their population has now risen to around five hundred birds.
What are those little ground birds that you have dozens of species of, Anne? I remember our guide in Kruger getting a bit cross because we couldn’t tell the difference between the species :-).
This depends on how little you mean. Given the context, I wonder if you are referring to the francolins and spurfowl, some of which look very similar to each other – much much smaller might be the larks.
Francolins! I’ve remembered. I just need time these days 🙂
Mmm I thought it might be francolins 🙂
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Oh, how that picture takes me back to a more innocent time! (One in the bag! 😊)