Birds – Massena Partridge

Of the remaining genera but one (Cyrtonyx) is represented in the United States, and this by a single subspecies, the Massena Partridge (C. montezumce mearnsi), which ranges from western Texas, New Mexico; and Arizona south into Mexico. The members of this genus, some five in number, have the tail much less than half the length of the wing, the feathers being soft and hardly to be distinguished from the coverts, while the claws are very large and broad, and the head provided with a full, soft crest of blended feathers. They are handsome birds, the sides of the head and neck showing a distinct black and white pattern and the breast and sides beautifully ocellated with white or buff. The Massena Partridge, which is known in western Texas as the Black or Black-billed Quail and in Arizona as the ” Fool ” Quail, is a resident of the mountainous districts within its range, although often coming to lower altitudes in winter. They are exceedingly tame and confiding in many parts of the habitat, often remaining crouched on the ground within a few feet of the intruder, or when flushed flying for a short distance and stupidly attempting to hide in the most conspicuous places, where they are often killed with stones. With the advent of civilization they have readily adapted themselves to the change, and may frequently be seen about the ranches feeding on grain. Of their habits in New Mexico, Mr. E. W. Nelson says they ” were commonly found dusting themselves in the roads, and usually stood and watched our approach until we were within a few yards, and then flew into the bordering thicket and laid very close. When a covey was surprised among the grass, they arose at our feet and scattered in every direction, but never went very far, and while flying off would utter low notes of alarm, sounding like ‘chuk-chuk-chuk.'” The nest is usually carefully concealed in a bunch of grass or under a low bush that is reached by a narrow entrance or tunnel. The pure white eggs are ten or twelve in number. The other species, such as the Ocellated Partridge (C. ocellatus), Salle’s and Merriam’s Partridges (C. sallcei and C. merriami), are found in various portions of Mexico; but little is known of their habits.

Of the Long-clawed Partridges (Dactylortyx) of Mexico and Central America we may only mention one of the four known species. This bird (D. thoracicus), found from southern Mexico to Yucatan, Guatemala, and Salvador, is about nine inches long, and has the mantle and crown reddish brown mixed with black, the lower back and rump olive-brown, while the throat, cheeks, and stripes through the eyebrows are reddish chestnut and the lower parts are grayish; there is also a black patch on the sides of the throat. Of the habits of this species G. F. Gaumer writes as follows: ” This bird is common in all the eastern forests of Yucatan, where it is much esteemed for its fine flesh and as a household pet. As a pet it is not a success, living but a few months in confinement. Like the Quails, this bird lives upon the ground, where it is always seen in pairs. At nightfall it sings a very pretty song, beginning with a low whistle, which is three times repeated, each time with greater force; then follow the syllables che-va-lieu-a repeated from three to six times in succession. The tone is musical, half sad, half persuasive, beginning somewhat cheerfully, and ending more coaxingly. From its color and its habit of remaining immovable while one is passing, this bird is somewhat difficult to see. I have frequently seen it squatting close to the ground while I passed within a few feet of it. It seldom flies, and never flies far when compelled to take wing.”

Thick-billed Partridges. — Very closely related are the so-called Thick-billed Partridges (Odontophorus), of which nearly twenty species are known, mainly of Central America and northern South America, with a few extending into southern Mexico. Several are so rare that but one sex is known, and as might be supposed, but little has been ascertained regarding their habits.

The Old World Partridges, Francolins, and Quails (Perdicince) constitute a large group of some twenty-five genera and one hundred and fifty species. As already pointed out, they differ quite sharply from the American Partridges and Quails in the absence of serrations on the cutting edge of the lower mandible; but on the other hand, the line between them and the Pheasants is at best only an artificial one, since such forms as the Bamboo Partridges (Bambusicola), the Indian Spur Fowl (Galloperdix), the African Spur Fowl (Ptilopachys), etc., present undoubted gradations that make it difficult to decide where they belong. Although acknowledged to be a somewhat artificial character, the shape of the wing is mostly relied upon to separate them, having the first quill equal to or longer than the tenth in the Perdicince, and generally much shorter than the tenth in the Pheasants; but there are some exceptions to both and the length of the tail is introduced as a deciding factor, this being short in the first group and more or less elongated in the second.