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Hainan Partridge (Arborophila ardens)

Hainan Partridge (Arborophila ardens)

To refresh Ferrebeekeeper I am planning to expand the “Turkey” category to also include gamefowl and waterfowl (which together are scientifically known as the clade Galloanserae and constitute most of the farmbirds raised by humans).  Today though I am addressing the stories and allusions about a wild bird—the partridge.


Partridges are famous for being the first gift in the terrifyingly redundant seasonal carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (so the singer ends each of the many refrains singing about a partridge in a pear tree). I have always liked partridges–perhaps because of this association with the Yule season or maybe because of their distinctive comical prettiness. One of the most modest and attractive game fowl, partridges are part of the pheasant family.  Midway in size between pheasants and quail, they dwell on the ground (where they are adept at hiding) and forage for seeds.

Seriously, How crazy is this song?
Seriously, How crazy is this song?

In addition to their anchor position in a famous Christmas carol, partridges play a part in one of the great myths of classical antiquity—the Theseus/Cretan cycle which gave us stories of the Minotaur, Ariadne, Minos, Pasiphae, Icarus, and Daedalus.  Throughout the story, the inventor Daedalus is always curiously off to the side—creating the labyrinth, solving it, and flying away on wax wings. Although the story of the death of his son Icarus hints at his character, it is the story of his most talented apprentice which truly reveals Daedalus’ unpleasant nature.

Daedalus’ apprentice was his nephew Perdix.  Under his uncle’s tutelage, Perdix was quickly becoming a brilliant inventor/artificer in his own right.  One day, while walking on the shore, he saw the spine of a fish.  The shape gave him an idea and he crafted a notched copy of the bone in iron—thus was the first saw created. Later he invented the drafting compass by riveting two sharpened iron spikes together.


Daedalus was envious of his nephew’s innovation and he was jealous of rivals.  One day as they were walking together on a high place the wily old inventor dropped an ingenious mechanical toy by the ledge.  As Perdix knelt to snatch up the device, Daedalus pushed him over the edge to his death.  However cunning Athena admired the craft and intellect of Perdix, so she did not let him die. As he fell through the air, the gray-eyed goddess transformed the boy into the partridge—known as perdix in Greek.  Thereafter the partridge has shunned roosting on high places or flying too high—in memory of the betrayal of Daedalus.


The gods also remembered Daedalus’ cowardly murderous act and they branded him with a partridge so that he could not escape the deed.  The elderly inventor was banished to barbarian lands where his genius was not appreciated and ultimately died in obscurity.


I apologize for my absence yesterday.  My munificent otter and I spent a lovely vacation day visiting the Bronx Zoo.  I plan on writing a post about the history of zoos– which occupy a pivotal location in the often-murderous relationship between humans and wild animals.  Today however I am going to turn my back on that fraught topic to write about a remarkable animal I encountered yesterday.

The best experience at a zoo is to encounter a new animal and strike up a bond with it.  This is one of the things that makes a zoo visit rewarding–to return and visit old friends and see how they are doing (it can also make zoo outings terribly sad, when beloved animals and their families fall ill or die).

Yesterday I was standing beside an aviary cage, which was apparently empty except for big leafy bushes, when a spectacular bird leaped out of a flowering shrub, sprinted to a spot immediately in front of me and performed a friendly impromptu dance.  It was the Golden Pheasant or “Chinese Pheasant“, (Chrysolophus pictus).  Here’s a picture, but be aware that it does not do the bird justice at all.  This bird looks like something created by an eccentric Taoist god drunk upon the glories of the courts of heaven!

Chrysolophus pictus

When the pheasant at the zoo was done showing off, he stared beadily at me with as if demanding some sort of tribute.  As I moved away to look at lesser pheasants he displayed signs of great displeasure.  I could have stared at him all day.  This sort of pheasant is reported to be quite fearless and friendly and it seems that the Bronx Zoo’s specimen is no exception.

The Golden pheasant is a great success story.  Indigenous to the forests and mountains of western China, they have spread across China due to their popularity as ornamental birds (they have a long history in China’s art and literature).  They have also spread abroad, and today boast colonies in England and America.  Aristocrats and the sporting rich once imported them, released them into alien forests and fields, and then set out to gun them down.  Imagine The Most Dangerous Game or Hard Target (but with the part of John-Claude Van Damme played by a pheasant).  Fortunately, the hen of the species possesses a more prudent nature than the outgoing male.  Additionally both sexes can run like greyhounds and are capable of making themselves invisible, even in the teeming cities of China.

An all-yellow variant demonstrates the birds' expressiveness.

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

May 2023