Saturday, 25 August 2012

Galliformes 1: Roulroul partridge

At Bristol we do not keep many species of galliform (the group of birds that includes chickens, pheasants, turkey, grouse etc) at present, but in the past we kept more. This group of birds has been popular with humans for a very long time, at first as favourite prey items (a state that still persists) and then as domesticated birds for eggs and meat. More recently, many species of gamebird are kept for ornamental purposes as well. Unfortunately, several species, especially the rainforest forms, are now threatened by deforestation and over-hunting. Their mostly prolific nature (many lay large clutches) and the ease with which chicks can be artificially reared means that it is often possible to boost wild numbers by raising and releasing captive raised birds, either for conservation purposes or for hunting. At present, Bristol has three species of galliform bird on show.

One of the more obvious and colourful inhabitants of the Forest of Birds is a small group of Roulroul Partidge, Rollulus rouloul (note spelling). Often called the Crested Wood Partridge partridge, it a small forest gamebird from the rainforests of Myanmar, Thailand, Borneo and related regions. As with many galliform birds, there is a pronounced dimorphism between males and females, with the males sporting a natty red crest and dark blue body feathers, while females are green with a grey head.

Roulroul partridges appear to be fairly adaptable creatures, living at a wide variety of elevations wherever there is reasonably dense cover, including regenerating woodland and bamboo forest. As with many gamebirds, they are omnivorous feeders, eating seeds, plants, and a large proportion of invertebrates and other small animals. They often follow sounders of wild pigs, feeding on the insects disturbed by the pigs as they root for food. There has been little direct studies of their ecology in the wild, so a lot of what is known is based on observations of captive birds.

The nest is constructed by the male, who kicks loose vegetation into a large pile and then burrows into it to create a nest site. The female lays 4-6 white eggs and incubates them for 18-19 days. Although as with all galliform birds the chicks are active and mobile from hatching, they are fed by the parents for the first week instead of feeding themselves and often return to the nest at night.

In the wild, Roulroul partridges are still widespread, but deforestation is still a problem. Their ability to make use of regenerating secondary forest means they are not in the same state as some more specialised and larger gamebirds, but the IUCN still classes them as Near Threatened.

In captivity, Roulroul partridges can be seen at many zoos around the world. They are often kept in tropical houses in temperate regions, as they are quite cold sensitive. Indoors, they will breed all year round, but in the summer they can be kept in planted aviaries outside. The chief problem with their care is that they are prone to various poultry diseases, and the chicks are hard to rear. In the past, we have had successful parent rearing at Bristol in the outside aviary where we now keep our lorikeets, but have not had much luck in recent years. There also some private keepers of this species, but they are not recommended for any but the more experienced private keeper because of their sensitive nature.

(image from wikipedia)

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