Daurian Partridge: Birds of Mongolia

Daurina partridge pair n

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.

daurian partridge back n

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. 

Daurian partridge bokeh n

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.

daurian partridge flying away n

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. 

The Wild Right Outside Ulaanbaatar: Hiking Mongolia’s Bogd Khan Mountain

bogdkahn hikers with lit up larches n

Yellow with fall, larch trees light the trail as Barbra and a friend make their way down from the summit of Bogd Khan Mountain. A Unesco Heritage Site, Bogd Khan rises 3,000 feet (914 meters) above the southern edge of the city of Ulaanbaatar, itself over 4,000 feet (1,310 meters) above sea level. Considered sacred by Mongolians, the mountain is home to numerous species of birds and other animals, some of which are rare.

Sciurus vulgaris eurasian red squirrel n

The Eurasian red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) of Bogd Khan are nearly black. Siberian Pine and Scotch pine provide ample forage for the forest’s squirrels and chipmunks; abundant birds of prey and foxes keep them on their toes. Prompted by increasingly cold nights, this one was a whir of activity as he scampered from tree base to tree base in an attempt to build his stash of pine seeds. 

red squirrel n

We followed a looping path up the mountain and back down, pausing at the summit for lunch under Mongolia’s signature blue skies. The hike took us through deciduous forests of mostly larch (Larix siberia) and birch (Betula paltyphylla) in the lower elevations, gradually giving way to evergreen forests predominated by Siberian and Scotch pine as we we climbed higher. 

icy stream with gold n

Recently nighttime temperatures have been plunging well below freezing with daytime highs climbing into the 40’s (degrees Fahrenheit), perfect fall hiking weather. This icy little brook is lit with the gold of larch trees and morning sunlight. 

Last embers of fall n

Catching the slanting rays of early sunlight, some of the last embers of red glow in this small meadow on the shoulders of Bogd Khan. Just weeks ago raptors such as black kites seemed to be everywhere. Now ravens and crows have taken over the skies. Winter is coming.

great tits Parus major n

A previous hiker left a snack for these great tits (Parus major), including sea-buckthorn berries. They look and sound very much like their North American cousins, black-capped chickadees. 

eurasian nuthatch sitta europaea n

Another common resident of Mongolia’s forests is the Eurasian nuthatch, (Sitta europaea). This one is sorting through larch needles for insects and seeds. 

vulpus vulpus young red fox n

A first for us, this sable (Martes zibellina) appeared to be hunting when we startled each other. 

red fox hunting n

This little guy was quite skittish and didn’t hang around long before he took off for less populated (by us) hunting grounds. Picas, gerbils, squirrels and other rodents are abundant throughout the steppe and forests of Mongolia. Already thickened up for winter, his coat looks luxurious.

siberian chipmunk eutamias sibiricus n

With foxes and sables on the prowl, this Siberian chipmunk didn’t sit still for even a second as he crammed his cheeks with seeds. Ranging from northern Japan through Europe, this is the only non-North American species of chipmunk. 

great tit n

As we gained altitude, stands of deciduous trees gave way to evergreens. The chirps and peeps of secretive birds followed us up the mountain.

garrulus glandarius brandtiieurasian jay n

The jay from which all jays get their name – the Eurasian jay – was a bird we had really wanted to get a look at. The subspecies locally common in Mongolia, (Garrulus glandarius Brandtii) is one of the most colorful among this group. They appeared to us to be considerably larger than either the blue jay or the Steller’s jay of North America.

siberian jay in flight n

hike through fire-damaged bodkhan n

Fire opened the canopy in an area near the summit of Bogd Khan allowing a grassy meadow, laced with deer trails, to emerge. We’re looking forward to making this hike in warmer seasons when wildflowers are in bloom.

lichen chartreuse n

This splash of chartreuse from a rock-hugging lichen was startling.

yellow wildflower fall bloom n

As was the unexpected yellow in this small, late-blooming flower.

bodkhan fall larches birches n

And then their were landscapes like this… jumbles of birch and larch that seemed to be lit from within. 


We emerged from the forest as the sun was beginning to sink below the mountain ridge, tired in the best possible way. It is a fortunate family that lives in this ger on the edge of this great forest.