Monday, 17 March 2014

How to feed grey partridges

The leanest time for gamebirds are the late winter and early spring months. By January most of the harvest-spilt grain and weed seeds have been gleaned by birds and small mammals, leaving only green shoots and leaves for gamebirds to feed on.

Once the shooting season finishes, feed hoppers are often allowed to run out, leaving gamebirds, which have been used to being well fed, with a potential shortage of food.

Research has shown that gamebirds lose weight and condition during these lean months so that come the breeding season in April and May, when hen birds have to produce and incubate eggs, and when this causes them to lose weight naturally, many are simply not in good enough condition to breed successfully.

Advice for feeding grey partridges

Feed hoppers for grey partridges should be put out well before the coveys split up (often in December in mild winters). They should be placed near suitable nest sites such as tussocky grass margins, either on their own or next to a fence, wall or hedge. Divisions between crops and beetle banks are also
good places.

Put out at least one feeder per pair that you expect to see. If in doubt, place one where you see partridges regularly or where you thought they may have nested previously. It is also advisable to put out extra hoppers, as they may attract pairs into your area. Research shows that hoppers help to ‘fix’ pairs of grey partridges and there is a strong link between hopper position and nest site, usually within 20 metres.

The hopper itself should be between 20-40 litres in size and set at a height of around 20-25 centimetres (8”-9”) from the ground. Wheat is the ideal grain to fill them with. As with pheasants, wheat is currently our recommended feed until we test alternatives. French keepers often cover them with fir branches, which may offer some protection from predators. It is also helpful in finding the hopper again once the crop has grown up around it – hoppers and fir branches are not ideal materials for the combine!

Many keepers, including the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Malcolm Brockless, have designed their own cage-like structure around the hopper. This seems to help keep
raptor predation to a minimum. Crows and jackdaws can sometimes take a lot of grain from hoppers, but weldmesh structures help to stop many of them as well – they are too suspicious to enter. It doesn’t, however, seem to stop partridges once they have become accustomed to it. Mesh (size 20x20cm or 8”x8”) keeps both deer and badgers at bay - both can be extremely destructive. If the structure is also supporting the hopper it can easily be moved to keep the ground beneath it ‘clean’.

Each time the hopper is moved any rat holes can be baited to reduce their numbers. Hoppers should be kept full until the end of May and then slowly allowed to run out. However, in France a year-round hopper system is employed and feeders can be seen out on the stubbles even after harvest.

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