Partridge
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Source: British Library Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 48r


 

Partridge

Latin name: Perdix

Other names: Perdrix, Perdriz, Pertris, Petris

A deceitful bird that steals other birds' eggs

 

 
General Attributes

The partridge steals the eggs of other birds and hatches them, but she gains nothing from this, for as soon as the young birds hear the voice of their true mother they fly to her. Male partridges occasionally have intercourse with each other. Frequent intercourse tires them. Female partridges are so lustful that wind blowing from a male can impregnate them. To hide itself from harm, the partridge lies on its back and covers itself with clods of earth. The birds camouflage their nests with thorns and cover the eggs with dust, but if anyone comes near the nest the partridge lures them away by feigning a broken foot or wing. If the young are exposed to danger, they lie on their backs and hold clods of earth above them in their claws, and thus disguise themselves. The females sometimes carry their chicks because the males will attack them, particularly if the chicks pester the males.


Allegory/Moral

The partridge stealing eggs is like the devil, who steals souls from their creator. But when sinners recognize God as their true parent, they return to him.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 51): Partridges protect their nests with thorns and twigs so that they are safe from animals. After the eggs are laid the partridge moves them somewhere else, so that the laying place does not become known, and covers them with soft dust. The hens hide their eggs even from their mates, because the males break the eggs so that the females remain available to them. The cocks fight duels with each other over their desire for the hens; it is said that the loser in the fight has to submit sexually to the winner. The hens can become pregnant by merely standing facing the cock, and if they open their beak and put out their tongue at that time, they are sexually excited. Even the air blown from a cock flying overhead, or the sound of a cock crowing, is enough to cause pregnancy. If a fowler approaches the nest, the hen will lure him away by running away while pretending to be injured. If the hen has no eggs to protect, she does not run but lies on her back in a furrow and holds a clod of earth in her claws to cover herself.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:63): The partridge (perdix) gets its name from perdesthai (to break wind). It is an impure bird because through lust males have sex with males. It is a deceitful bird that steals and hatches the eggs of other birds, but it gets no benefit from this, because when the chicks hear the voice of their true mother they leave the one who hatched them and return to their mother.


Illustration

The partridge is often illustrated as a nondescript bird, not doing anything in particular. In some manuscripts the bird is shown stealing eggs (or at least near a nest full of eggs).


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