Favorite Moments: Partridge Family Snackers

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A male crested wood partridge has dark plumage while the female is mostly green.

A male crested wood partridge has dark plumage while the female is mostly green.

This story focuses on a video I captured while going about a normal work day as a bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo. It has to do with parents teaching their young how to eat. I think it would be best to watch the video below first and then read the blog. But it is, of course, entirely up to you.

If you have already watched the video of the crested wood partridges Rollulus rouloul eating, you are still probably “cooing” over just how adorable their chick is as it tries to eat anything Mom and Dad pick up. If we look closer, though, we see a number of amazing things that are happening.

The first thing that I just love is that the male is helping to feed the chick. Sometimes it is normal for a male bird to help feed his young, but when it comes to many ground birds like chickens, grouse, pheasants, monals, etc., the males usually never even meet their offspring. Crested wood partridges are quite different: Dad may not help to incubate the eggs at all, but he is a stellar dad when it comes to taking care of his chicks.

At the video’s start, Dad (with the red mohawk and red around his eyes) and Mom are passing a waxworm back and forth while quietly making a vocalization that says something close to “here is food.” We then see the chick suddenly run up to join his parents on the wooden bridge (temporarily set up to span the waterway while the chick is learning how to navigate the exhibit).

A young ground bird doesn’t know what is good to eat, but it is born with an instinct to try to eat anything its parent picks up and makes a fuss over. The bigger the fuss, the more the bird will want to eat the item. What almost looks like teasing from the parents as they pass the waxworm back and forth is really intended to give the chick practice hunting bugs that may not be as easy to catch once the bird has to fend for itself. What a great little family!

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Favorite Bird Moments: We Want a Bath.