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Sicilian Rock Partridge and the ‘Rock Partridges’ of Italy

Andrea Corso

The Sicilian Rock Partidge, may best be treated as a distinct species, separate from other Rock Partidges and Chukar.

“According to Randi (2006): ‘Phylogeographic and genetic data are concordant in indicating that the Sicilian Partridge (A. g. whitakeri) meets the criteria for an Evolutionary Significant Unit (ESU: Moritz, 1995).’ The molecular evidence and the morphological differences described and illustrated here suggest that Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris whitakeri represents a unique lineage and is best regarded as a separate species according to the criteria outlined by Helbig et al (2002).”

I dealt extensively with Rock Partridges in Italy and Europe, and chiefly with taxonomy and identification of Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris (g.) whitaker in Dutch Birding 32: 79-96, 2010. I report the key information here again, in another version for birders that do not have that wonderful magazine (I suggest to subscribe to it !!). The main artwork by Lorenzo Starnini published there (alongside with many other plates showing variability of all the taxa). Lorenzo is to my eye simply a Caravaggio of the birds…. However, here I want to report just a few comments on the plate and therefore in fact on the various main Italian taxa. Hope you enjoy this plate and the short comments following:

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1)       MIDDLE BIRD – SICILIAN ROCK PARTRIDGE (whitakeri): Note the warm plumage and facial pattern which make this the closest taxon to Chukar, it is the smallest and dullest of all the Italian taxa with the most uniform upperparts (warm olive-brown). Compared with other graeca taxa, it frequently has an interrupted black collar, often spotted in front, invariably dark vermiculation on the upper­tail-coverts and on all or almost all of the tail-feathers, a more contrasting and paler ear-covert stripe, warmer and more richly coloured under­parts, a different voice and a different moult. In particular, the pale ear-coverts stripe and the general colour makes it looking in fact closer to Chukar more than the other taxa.

2)       TOP RIGHT – ITALIAN ROCK PARTRIDGE (orlandoi) : It appears paler all over than any other Western Palearctic subspecies (?), purer bluish-grey than the other taxa, almost lacking any strong olive-brownish hue. The mantle shows a very pale and delicate, almost pink, vinaceous wash. The colour intensity varies as in the other taxa but less obviously, but it is lack­ing conspicuous strong olive tinge. The scapulars do normally not contrast with the rest of the up­perparts, with the bluish-grey markings being al­most the same colour as the mantle and coverts and with the surrounding vinaceous tinge being quite pale as well. Uppertail and rump are quite pale grey or even cerulean-grey, usually uniform and without dark vermiculation. The underparts are also very pale, paler than in the other taxa, varying from pale buffish-cinnamon to cream. The black collar is quite narrow and regular, broader and sometimes irregular on the neck-side while often narrower at the front (on the breast).

3)       LOWEST BIRD – ALPINE ROCK PARTRIDGE (saxatilis): The upperparts vary from dark greyish, quite obviously tinged olive to extensively olive-brown, sometimes very close to whitakeri but generally paler, less dull, with a more contrasting paler rump and uppertail lacking an obvious brown-olive or fulvous tinge on the uppertail-coverts and rump and the extensive dark vermiculations over the uppertail and tail-feathers. The black collar is normally wider than in all other taxa, better marked and defined, becoming narrower in birds from west to east. The throat is usually more greyish tinged, the white line over the forehead is often absent or narrow and the black over the lores is quite wide, wider than in orlandoi and whitakeri.

 

Adult male Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris (graeca) whitakeri, Monti Iblei, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy, 21 March 2009 (Angelo Zimmitti). Singing male but no very typical characters. Indeed, the upperparts are at the lowest range of saturation and least olive-tinged and with least vinaceous hue. Also note paler rump  compared with typical whitakeri. Throat buffish-cream as many whitakeri, black collar narrow but not broken. Pale ear-coverts conspicuous, as typical of whitakeri. DNA of such birds need to be analysed to be sure whether they are pure or genetically ‘polluted’ by other taxa (after introduction by hunters).

Adult male Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris (graeca) whitakeri, Monti Iblei, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy, 21 March 2009 (Angelo Zimmitti). Singing male but no very typical characters. Indeed, the upperparts are at the lowest range of saturation and least olive-tinged and with least vinaceous hue. Also note paler rump
compared with typical whitakeri. Throat buffish-cream as many whitakeri, black collar narrow but not broken. Pale ear-coverts conspicuous, as typical of whitakeri. DNA of such birds need to be analysed to be sure whether they are pure or genetically ‘polluted’ by other taxa (after introduction by hunters).

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Click once on plates to enjoy larger and lovely colour-filled view!

Download Andrea’s full Dutch Birding paper with more illustrations by Lorenzo:

Sicilian Rock Partridge. Identification and Taxonomy

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