Partridge begin the winter in family parties called coveys. A typical covey consists of an adult male and female, their surviving offspring from the previous summer’s breeding and often one or more adults that failed to breed.
In grey partridge there is usually a surplus of cocks amongst the adults in the covey because some hens are killed each year during incubation, typically by foxes. Pairing begins amongst old birds in the covey, with the young cocks leaving the covey to pair with non-siblings. Pairing and spring dispersal are usually completed by February/March.
A suitable nest site is then selected by the pair. Nesting material used depends on what is available nearby. In most cases it is residual grass. An ideal nest location would be along the grassy bank of a well- managed hedgerow bordering a cereal field. The hen lays an average clutch size of 15 eggs over 21 days with incubation taking an average of 25 days.
The chicks are precocial and nidifugous. They can walk and feed for themselves but cannot control their body temperature for the first 2 weeks depending on the quality of the diet. The parents lead the chicks to areas of high insect density to feed. The chicks are brooded by both parents at intervals during the day and at night. This 2 week period is a critical time for partridge breeding success as a combination of cold, wet weather and low insect density can lead to high chick mortality.
Once the chicks develop thermo-regulation and fight the mobility of the covey increases. The proportion of insect matter in the diet of the chick decreases as a switch to plant matter occurs. The covey stays intact until the following spring when dispersal and pair formation occurs.