We encountered these softball-shaped Daurian partridge (Perdix daurica) in the pre-dawn of a December trip to Mongolia’s Hustai National Park.
Any day we see a new species of bird or other animal is a good day. On a recent three-day trip to Hustai, we had several such encounters. Nothing was any cuter than these relatives of pheasants and quail that would have fit perfectly in our cupped hands.
We startled them, a covey of 14, as they were feeding on seeds on the coldest morning to date this winter in Mongolia. Maybe it was the sub zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures, or the fact that none of us – including the birds – were fully awake. But uncharacteristically they let us hang around and snap a few photos in the blue morning twilight. The orange beard-like feathers and gray side whiskers are part of their fall and winter plumage.
Named for the Daurian region of Russia, the average Daurian partridge is about 11 or 12 inches (28 to 30 cm) from head to tail and weighs around one half to three quarters of a pound (225 to 340 grams). The main part of their diet consists of seeds, which are abundant on Mongolia’s steppe grasslands. Insects and berries also figure into their diet, when available. Partridge are ground nesters, having developed a long-term dislike of heights (such as tree branches) when, Daedalus (father of Icarus of Greek legend) threw his nephew Perdix off the Athena hill in a fit of anger. Not wishing to experience another such fall, members of genus Perdix avoid high places to this day. So the legend goes.
But they do fly, and this is the more usual view of Daurian partridge. Twice, previously, while hiking the Mongolian steppe we’ve had our startled hearts stop in our chests as a thrumming whoosh of wingbeats exploded practically underfoot. Once the birds have flushed, it’s difficult to approach them again, although you can sometimes track them down by listening for their rix, rix, rix, call as they regroup.