… a partridge in a pear tree.
A Grey partridge or a Red-legged partridge?
The Grey partridge used to be the only partridge here in Britain. And so was simply called the Partridge. But then came along the glamorous Red-legged partridge, introduced to Britain from France in the late 1700s, so we had to add the grey bit on to the front of partridge to not get confused. Its not all grey though. It has a pretty orange face, and some fancy stripy markings on its back and wings.
But back to the pear tree… One may presume that, as the Red-legged partridge is a fairly new inhabitant to England, perhaps it was a Grey partridge being sung about. But I’ve been doing some investigating, and guess what? The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ song, seems to have first appeared in England in … guess when? Yep, the late 1700s.
Also, Grey partridges NEVER perch in trees. Alas, Red partridges can occasionally be seen perching in trees.
So I think I’ll settle for the belief that early singers of our beloved song, believed they were singing about our truly native Grey partridge. That will do for me.
A Grey partridge can produce one of the largest clutches of eggs of any current living bird species, up to 19 eggs. Poor hen! So how on earth did they manage to become so few? Well, before 1940 approximately two million of these gamebirds were shot each year. So it seems that there were loads of them before. Post-war changes in our farming systems are to blame. As usual. Nowhere to nest, as we removed all the hedges. Nothing to eat, as we killed everything with herbicides and pesticides. What is a partridge to do. If there was no food or housing available, would you keep having babies?
There are many people trying to help the Grey partridge, including farmers and land managers, who are incentivised financially to manage their land in partridge friendly ways. Organisations, such as the RSPB and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, work with these land managers, advising and helping them. Marvellous folk.