Successful winter feeding of partridges: how and why?
Although supplementary winter feeding may not be strictly necessary during mild winters (see here: https://northsearegion.eu/partridge/press-releases/going-hungry-in-empty-fields-how-grey-partridges-cope-with-the-lean-winter-months/), supplementary feeding is a crucial measure to get partridges through freezing and snowy winter periods. It is also believed to increase nesting success in second brood attempts where the first one failed and reduce dispersal of spring pairs, hence helping to increase local spring-pair density. However, when providing supplementary seeds, great care must be taken, not to feed non-target species such as rats, corvids, and pigeons. If supplementary feeding can’t be accompanied by mitigating actions to deter non-target species, the disadvantages may outweigh the benefits for partridges and other ground-nesting birds. For successful supplementary feeding we strongly encourage you to follow the simple guidelines outlined below.
For the full Guidelines see here https://www.gwct.org.uk/advisory/guides/successful-gamebird-and-songbird-feeding/
When to feed
During the whole winter, but most importantly from February until the end of April. Stop feeding during the breeding period to encourage hens to bring their chicks to insect-rich habitat instead of feeders.
What to feed
Use wheat as it has several advantages compared with other grains: wheat contains a balanced amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Wheat is easily available on most farms, and it is favored by partridges and other farmland birds such as corn buntings, yellowhammers and sparrows, but many other species may use them too (see here for example https://northsearegion.eu/partridge/press-releases/winter-feeding-important-for-farmland-wildlife/).
How to feed
Use hoppers as they store grains dry and clean for prolonged periods of time. The risk of feeding non-target is reduced by using hoppers instead of directly spreading grains on the ground.
Deter rats even more by using drums with a rat-proof nozzle that spills less grain and from which rats easily slip of. Avoid feeding spirals where possible as they can spill too much grain and rats can easily jump on them to get to the grain. Rats are expected to negatively affect breeding success of partridges as they can take their eggs.
A good rat-proof option are drums with slots in the bottom. The bottom must have a rim so that moisture can’t seep through the slots into the drum.
For partridges hang the bottom of the nozzle or slot at a height of 26 centimeters.
Stainless rat-proof nozzle (Photos: Piet Lesage)
A rat-proof nozzle that hangs too low (Photo: Jochem Sloothaak)
Watch this video to learn how to build the ultimate rat-proof feeder: https://www.gwct.org.uk/game/advice/building-the-ultimate-rat-proof-gamebird-feeder/
Drum with a rim and slots in the bottom (Photo: GWCT)
Where to feed
Where rats are controlled, feeders can be placed within or alongside cover such as hedgerows, woodland or game crop. However, be aware that this location also favors rats, which may lead to negative effects if they are not controlled.
Where rats are not controlled successfully, place feeders in open fields, approximately 40 meters away from cover because rats will use them less there (but partridges and songbirds will).
However, feeders in open fields are also favored by pigeons, corvids, and some birds of prey. Use sheep netting with mesh size 12 x 12 centimeters to help keep unwanted birds out (this does reduce numbers rather than exclude them completely). Where badgers, deer and wild boar are present, use an iron armature with sheep netting that is fixed to the ground otherwise they will easily knock it over. Be aware that rats use excluders to reach the nozzle, as they can climb on it.
Partridges foraging at feeders wtih rat-proof nozzle in Oude Doorn demo area, Netherlands (Photo: Jochem Sloothaak)
How many feeders?
At least one feeder per covey or pair, more in areas with high partridge densities (>10 pairs/100 hectares or four pairs/100 acres).
Move feeders regularly to reduce rats becoming established around feeders and to prevent the spread of diseases and parasites. Move feeders up to 20 meters away from the previous location every 7 to 10 days but stay within 50 meters from the original location. Spread some grains around new locations to encourage partridges to use feeders at new locations. To facilitate relocation, we recommend feeders with a maximum 30-40 liter capacity.
After the feeding season in May, remove feeders from the field so that they do not hinder agricultural activities. This will also help increase the lifespan of the feeders and facilitate repair where necessary.
Clean used materials thoroughly after the feeding season.
Monitoring the impacts of feeding
Monitor whether feeders are used by partridges. If not, try to figure out why not and adapt your strategy.
Monitor the presence of non-target species and pay special attention to wild boar. We recommend the use of camera traps for monitoring.
Written by Miel Cnuts, Hubertus Vereniging Vlaanderen - Belgian PARTRIDGE partner, edited by Francis Buner, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and PARTRIDGE Lead partner