Posts Tagged ‘partridge’


From Walden (1854) :

What is a country without rabbits and partridges? They are among the most simple and indigenous animal products; ancient and venerable families known to antiquity as to modern times; of the very hue and substance of Nature, nearest allied to leaves and to the ground, — and to one another; it is either winged or it is legged. It is hardly as if you had seen a wild creature when a rabbit or a partridge bursts away, only a natural one, as much to be expected as rustling leaves. The partridge and the rabbit are still sure to thrive, like true natives of the soil, whatever revolutions occur. If the forest is cut off, the sprouts and bushes which spring up afford them concealment, and they become more numerous than ever. That must be a poor country indeed that does not support a hare. Our woods teem with them both, and around every swamp may be seen the partridge or rabbit walk, beset with twiggy fences and horse-hair snares, which some cow-boy tends (pg 280).

From those of you not from New England, the word “partridge” does not refer to the gray or Hungarian partridge or to the chukar, both of which have been introduced as game birds.

The New England partridge is the ruffed grouse, and as Thoreau writes, it prefers to be in places where the forest has been cut and is now growing back.

The same can be said of the “rabbit” in Thoreau’s text, which in an earlier paragraph calls Lepus americanus, which is now the name for the snowshoe hare. At the time, cottontail rabbits were also called hares, even though we know they are rabbits. Snowshoe hares prefer to be in forests that are just starting to recolonize, and because the timber industry has fallen on hard times in West Virginia, our snowshoe hare population is now quite low.

Thoreau was writing a sort of requiem for the New England wild in that passage.

He wrote of men who hunted bears and “wildcats” in those same woods just a generation or two before.

Now, the only large wild predator left was the fox.

Thoreau was living at a time of rapid expansion. New England was the first part of the US to experience the Industrial Revolution. Concord is but a few miles from Lowell, where there were massive textile mills, and the new economy demanded new labor.  New England was the least diverse part of the British colonies that became the United States, thanks largely in part to their history as Puritan theocracies.

But in this new economy, there was a massive influx of Irish laborers, many of whom were escaping the horrors of the famine.

The Yankee world was being transformed in so many ways. The land, the society, and the economy were now in a state of revolution. The old kingdom of the bear and the “wildcat,” became replaced by the kingdom of the “partridge” and “rabbit.”

Of course, Thoreau never lived to see the world come full circle. The black bear population has rebounded throughout the East in recent years. They are now becoming more common in Eastern Massachusetts.

Like in West Virginia, Massachusetts’s farmland is turning back into forest once again, and now the bears have plenty of habitat for themselves.

Thoreau would never have imagined that at some point, nature would cause the revolution to decay and bring back the kingdom of forests and bears.


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I’ve never seen this behavior in this species, but apparently it’s common enough for there to be several youtube videos of different ruffed grouse approaching people, like this one in Minnesota.


I’ve never known anyone to raise these birds in captivity. I don’t even think you can raise them in captivity, so they aren’t imprinted on people.

They occasionally get curious.

And that’s all it is.

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