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Steve Berry's Birds of Kingston
Part 2 - The Jay and the Red-legged Partridge
The Jay - Garrulus glandarius

A line drawing of the Jay

The first part of the jay’s scientific is certainly very appropriate. There can be few birds more garrulous than the extremely noisy jay, although it screeches and squawks rather than chatters. The specific name, however, suggests a close association with oak trees (ex quercus glande - from the acorn, the oak) but in that case why do jays come to Kingston at all, given the almost total absence of oaks here? The simple answer seems to be that while jays do certainly prefer oak trees, and actually help to spread forests by planting acorns (in food stores) and then forgetting where all of them are hidden, they are by no means dependent on them.

Jays do breed in Kingston but almost certainly only in very small numbers. In winter months, groups of up to a dozen can sometimes be seen in “Ash Wood”, appearing then to commute to the copse on the top of Kingston Hill. Odd birds may turn up almost anywhere in the village. The winter jay population in Kingston may be expanding.

Red-legged partridge - Alectoris rufa

These birds are rather distinctive-looking, with an obvious white throat patch which extends to a line above the eye, black speckling to form a sort of collar and reddish underparts. The legs are indeed bright red. They are mostly found in small groups (coveys).

All partridges are naturally birds of open ground and the owners of most of the more athletic dogs in Kingston will have seen their charges first put them up and then give abortive chase for at least a short while across the Downs. However, it’s not that uncommon for red-legs to turn up in apparently unsuitable places. One appeared unexpectedly on Lewes High Street when the English Nature office was on School Hill. It chose its location well! It was taken into care by a well-wishing member of staff, put in a box for a while and later released unharmed on Malling Down.

A red-legged partridge was seen frequently in the garden of one house in Bramleys from December 2004 until at least March 2005 and there are other similar records.

This species, unlike the grey partridge, is not native. It was first introduced from the continent successfully in the late 1700s, by bored Sussex landowners looking for new birds to slaughter during their very plentiful leisure time, having wearied of the very limited native range at their disposal. Earlier attempts, the first being recorded in 1673, all failed. New releases have been made many times since, right up to the end of the last century.

Red-legged partridges are quite vocal at dusk and those doing the late afternoon/early evening dog walk around the horseshoe path are quite likely to hear their low, harsh notes emanating from the long grass.



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