Alectoris rufa (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Galliformes > Phasianidae
The Red-legged Partridge is a rather small dumpy bird with bright red legs, white cheeks and an ostentatious black spotted necklace.
The species first became established as a breeding bird in the late 1700s, when large numbers were hand-reared on the Duke of Hertford's Suffolk estate. Introduced for sporting purposes, the Red-legged Partridge is now a widespread bird of open country and can be found almost anywhere from Land’s End to John O Groats.
It is estimated that around 78,000 territories are occupied during the summer months, although numbers fluctuate widely because of the annual release of more birds into the population. Breeding Bird Survey data reveal a general decline in abundance since the late 1980s.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Red-legged Partridge
Red-legged Partridge identification is usually straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Red-legged Partridge.
Partridges are small, dumpy gamebirds found in lowland habitats. Alongside our UK native species, there is a second that has been introduced for shooting. This workshop video will help you tell the two apart.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Red-legged Partridge, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
|Species of European Conservation Concern||Near Threatened|
|IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (global)||Least Concern|
|Schedule 1 license required (to disturb)||No|
|Birds Directive Annex 1||No|
|Listed on the Annexes of||WBD(II*&III*), Bern(III)|
Since Red-legged Partridge is a non-native species released in the UK for the purpose of being shot by hunters, its long-term CBC/BBS population decrease in England raises no conservation concern. Significant increases shown in the UK and England during the first 10 years of BBS have been reversed during the second decade of BBS. Game-bag data show that the numbers released per unit area onto shooting estates, and the numbers shot, have both increased substantially (PACEC 2006, Aebischer 2019). There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1998 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).
|UK breeding population||No population change in UK (1967–2020)|
Red-legged Partridges are distributed widely across England, the eastern half and southwest of Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Wales they are found mainly in Anglesey and Pembrokeshire with scattered records elsewhere in the northeast and southeast. Records in Ireland are relatively scarce and come from agricultural areas.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1657|
|% occupied in breeding season||55|
|No. occupied in winter||1598|
|% occupied in winter||53|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Arable Farmland|
Relative frequency by habitat
The Red-legged Partridge change maps for winter and the breeding season show an increase in the number of occupied 10-km squares in north, northwest and southwest England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. These gains are likely to be mainly due to local releases, with some natural range expansion.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+79.3%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+75.5%|
Red-legged Partridges are recorded throughout the year.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Red-legged Partridge, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|Number of Broods||1/2|
|Egg Size||40×31 mm Weight = 20.1 g (of which 10% is shell)|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||7 years 7 months 2 days (set in 1975)|
|Ring size||Not Ringed|
|Field Codes||2-letter: RL | 5-letter code: RELPA | Euring: 3580|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Red-legged Partridge from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The population size of this species is principally determined by releases of reared birds for shooting. Little is known about the impacts of changes in demographic parameters among wild-breeding birds.
Further information on causes of change
It must be noted that numbers and distribution of this introduced gamebird are largely determined by releases of reared birds for shooting (Pringle et al. 2019). Game-bag data show that the numbers released per unit area onto shooting estates, and the numbers shot, have increased more than eightfold between 1980 and 2004: around 6.5 million birds were released annually in the UK in the early 2000s (PACEC 2006). This has since increased further to around 9.5 million birds in 2012 and around 10 million in 2016 (Aebischer 2019). Around 12.6 million Red-legged Partridges were recorded as being held in captivity before release in 2010, although this total may include some birds that died in captivity and hence were not released (Pringle et al. 2019).
Modelling suggests that climate change may also have had a positive impact on the long-term trend for this species, possibly caused by either improved breeding success or increased survival of released birds (Pearce-Higgins & Crick 2019).
Information about conservation actions
As a non-native introduced breeding species, Red-legged Partridge does not have a conservation status in the UK.
Large numbers of Red-legged Partridges are released annually in the UK, and concerns have been raised that this may impact negatively on the conservation status of some native species. There is now evidence that high densities of released Pheasant and Red-legged Partridges may be having a positive effect on some avian predator populations, by providing additional winter food resources and hence reducing winter mortality of predators; this may in turn impact negatively on other UK native birds during subsequent breeding seasons through increased levels of nest predation (Pringle et al. 2019). There is also evidence that shooting operations based on large-scale releases of Red-legged Partridges can lead to local extinction of the red-listed native Grey Partridge (Watson et al. 2007).
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