Archived 2011-2012 topics: Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca): uplist to Near Threatened?

Initial deadline for comments: 31 January 2012.

BirdLife species factsheet for Rock Partridge

Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca is endemic to Europe, occurring only in the Alps, the Apennines, Sicily and the Balkans. It is currently listed as Least Concern, because when last assessed it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN Red List criteria.

Despite being restricted to a few countries in southern Europe, this species has a relatively large range (Extent of Occurrence [EOO] estimated at c. 500,000 km2; Hagemeijer and Blair 1997) and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2: EOO of less than 20,000 km2, combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality or population size, and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population size is also relatively large (c.80,000–150,000 mature individuals; BirdLife International 2004), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1: fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).

Therefore, the only relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining slowly, but not sufficiently rapidly to approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer). However, information gathered recently under an EC-funded contract (Griffin 2011) suggests that the species is declining more rapidly and more widely than was previously thought. This has been reflected in its classification as Threatened or Near Threatened in a number of recently published national Red Data Books, for example: Bulgaria – Endangered (Boev and Nikolov 2011); Croatia – Near Threatened (Tutiš et al. in press); France – Near Threatened (UICN France et al. 2011); Greece – Vulnerable (Handrinos and Katsadorakis 2009); Italy – Vulnerable (Peronace et al. in press); and Switzerland – Near Threatened (Keller et al. 2010).

In most of these cases, the species has been classified on the basis of population declines thought to approach or exceed 30% over the last three generations (c.12 years, as one generation length is estimated by BirdLife to be c.4 years). Together, these six countries are thought to hold about 70% of the species’s global population (BirdLife International 2004), so these declines (from the north-west to the south-east of its range) are significant.

The species’s status has previously been assessed twice at European level, using trend data from 1970 to 1990 (Tucker and Heath 1994) and from 1990 to 2000 (BirdLife International 2004). In both of these assessments, its status was assessed only provisionally (as ‘Vulnerable’ in 1994 and ‘Declining’ in 2004), owing to the lack of sufficient quantitative data across much of its range. This was particularly true in the Balkans, which hold a substantial proportion of the species’s population and range. Under a recent EC-funded contract (Griffin 2011), special emphasis was therefore placed on gathering information from the countries in this important region:

Albania – one source (which is used to set bag quotas for hunting) estimated the national population size at c.38,000 individuals in spring 2008, and c.30,000 individuals in spring 2010. However, these figures are an order of magnitude higher than those reported previously (e.g. 1,000–3,000 pairs; BirdLife International 2004), and other experts consider them to be large overestimates, pointing towards other sources that suggest much lower numbers and a strong decline since c.1995, with local extinctions considered likely in several areas.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – previously, no population estimate was available, but Sučić (2008) cited a figure of c.10,000 pairs. Monitoring at one site from 2000 to 2007 revealed a slight increase in the last two years, but it is not known if this has been sustained or is reflected elsewhere. Quantitative data from across the country are lacking, but over the last few decades the species is generally thought to have declined strongly (Sučić 2008).

Croatia – the national population estimate has been revised downwards from 10,000–15,000 pairs (Radović et al. 2005) to 6,000–10,000 pairs (Tutiš et al. in press), owing to better knowledge. Quantitative data are lacking, but the species is considered to be declining and several local extinctions have been reported (Budinski et al. 2010).

Greece – a recent study (2004–2010) in central Greece (Sterea Ellas) produced a regional population estimate of 20,000–37,500 pairs (Bontzorlos et al. 2011). As this region contains c.25% of suitable habitat for the species in Greece, the authors extrapolated these figures to produce a national estimate of 78,000–147,500 pairs. This is an order of magnitude higher than those reported previously (e.g. 7,000–13,000 pairs; BirdLife International 2004), and other experts consider it to be a large overestimate (e.g. Handrinos and Katsadorakis 2009). The species was reportedly stable in Sterea Ellas during 2004–2010 (Bontzorlos et al. 2011), but the national Red List documents on-going declines and local extirpations elsewhere in its Greek range (Handrinos and Katsadorakis 2009).

Macedonia (FYROM) – the national population estimate has been revised downwards from 5,000–15,000 pairs (BirdLife International 2004) to 2,000–5,000 pairs (Velevski et al. in press), owing to better knowledge. Quantitative data are lacking, but there is no evidence for a decline at several sites that are regularly monitored.

Montenegro – recent surveys (2010–2011) have yielded a maximum population estimate of c.1,300 pairs (Saveljić et al. 2011), which is lower than the previous figure of 3,000–4,000 pairs (Puzović et al. 2003) and much lower than an alternative that is used to set bag quotas and form the basis of hunting management plans.

Serbia – the national population estimate has been revised downwards from 2,000–3,000 breeding pairs (Puzović et al. 2003) to 1,000–1,500 breeding pairs (Puzović et al. 2009). The species probably declined by 20–30% during the 1990s (Puzović et al. 2003), but there is no formal monitoring, so figures must be treated cautiously.

Studies in different parts of the species’s range (summarised in Griffin 2011) indicate that it is affected by a wide variety of threats, including habitat loss and degradation (Bernard-Laurent and de Franceschi 1994), reduced connectivity between metapopulations (Cattadori et al. 2003), abandonment of traditional agro-pastoral activities (Budinski et al. 2010, Rippa et al. 2011), disturbance, poaching, unsustainable hunting, hybridisation with released captive-bred Chukar A. chukar and Red-legged Partridge A. rufa (Barilani et al. 2007, Randi 2008), and the transfer of pathogens and parasites from these species (Manios et al. 2002, Rosà et al. 2011).

Despite on-going uncertainty about the size and trend of some national populations, a balanced assessment of the available evidence suggests that overall the population of this species is probably declining at a rate approaching 30% over 12 years (three generations). For this reason, it is proposed that the species be uplisted to Near Threatened. Comments on this proposal are welcome, as are any quantitative data that could further inform the assessment.


Barilani, M., Bernard-Laurent, A., Mucci, N., Tabarroni, C., Kark, S., Perez Garrido, J.A. and Randi, E. (2007) Hybridisation with introduced chukars (Alectoris chukar) threatens the gene pool integrity of native rock (A. graeca) and red-legged (A. rufa) partridge populations. Biological Conservation 137: 57-69.

Bernard-Laurent, A. and de Franceschi, P.F. (1994) Status, trends, and limiting factors of Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca saxatilis) populations. Game and Wildlife 11: 267-307.

BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series no. 12).

Boev, Z. and Nikolov, S. (2011) Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca. In: Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, Volume 2: Animals. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Environment and Water, Sofia.

Bontzorlos, V., Vlachos, C. G., Chatzinikos, E., Dedousopoulou, E. A. and Kiousis, D. K. (2011) Rock partridge Alectoris graeca population density and trend in central Greece. 30th IUGB Congress Abstract Book: 115.

Budinski, I., Čulina, A., Mikulić, K. and Jurinović, L. (2010) Bird species that have significantly changed breeding range on Croatian coastal area: comparison of 30 years old data and recent knowledge. Bird Census News 23: 49-58.

Cattadori, I. M., Ranci-Ortigosa, G., Gatto, M. and Hudson, P. J. (2003) Is the rock partridge Alectoris graeca saxatilis threatened in the Dolomitic Alps? Animal Conservation 6: 71–81.

Griffin, C. (2011) Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca population assessment. Report by FACE for BirdLife International, under contract from the European Commission.

Hagemeijer, E. and Blair, M. (eds.) (1997) The EBCC Atlas of European breeding birds: their distribution and abundance. Poyser, London.

Handrinos, G. and Katsadorakis, G. (2009) Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca. Pp. 290-291 in: Legakis, A. and Maragou, P. (eds.) The Red Data Book of Threatened Greek Animals. Hellenic Zoological Society, Athens. 528 pp. [in Greek, with English summary]

Keller, V., Gerber, A., Schmid, H., Volet, B. and Zbinden, N. (2010) Liste rouge oiseaux nicheurs. Espèces menacées en Suisse, état 2010. Office fédéral de l’environnement, Berne, et Station ornithologique suisse, Sempach. L’environnement pratique n° 1019.

Manios, N., Papazahariadou, M., Frydas, S., Papageorgiou, N., Tsachalidis, E. and Gergopoulou, J. (2002) Tetrathyridium as a mortality factor of rock partridge (Alectoris graeca graeca) in Central Greece. European Journal of Wildlife Research 48: 378-382.

Peronace, V., Cecere, J. Gustin, M. and Rondinini, C. (in press) Lista Rossa 2011 degli Uccelli Nidificanti in Italia. Avocetta.

Puzović, S., Sekulić, G., Stojnić, N., Grubač, B. and Tucakov, M. (2009) Important Bird Areas in Serbia. Belgrade, Serbia: Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia, Provincial Secretariat for Environment and Sustainable Development.

Puzović, S., Simic, D., Saveljić, D., Gergelj, J., Tucakov, M., Stojnić, N., Hulo, I., Ham, I., Vizi, O., Sciban, M., Ruzic, M., Vucanovic, M. and Jovanovic, T. (2003) Birds of Serbia and Montenegro – size of nesting populations and trends: 1990-2002. Ciconia 12: 36-120.

Radović, D., Kralj, J., Tutiš, V., Radović, J. and Topić, R. (2005) National ecological network – areas important for birds in Croatia. Zagreb.

Randi, E. (2008) Detecting hybridization between wild species and their domesticated relatives. Molecular Ecology 17: 285–293.

Rippa, D., Maselli, V., Soppelsa, O. and Fulgione, D. (2011) The impact of agro-pastoral abandonment on the Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca in the Apennines. Ibis 153: 721–734.

Rosà, R., Bolzoni, L., Rosso, F., Pugliese, A., Hudson, P. J. and Rizzoli, A. (2011) Effect of Ascaridia infection on rock partridge population dynamics: empirical and theoretical investigations. Oikos 120: 1557–1567.

Saveljić, D., Rubinić, B. and Jovićević, M. (2011) Istraživanje indikatorskih vrsta ptica na Durmitoru tokom 2010: godine procjena stanja njihovih populacija. Nature Protection in 21st Century Conference Proceedings Book II: 341-349.

Sučić, I. (2008) Rock partridge (Alectoris graeca) population size on mountain Tušnica in the period between 2000 and 2007. Sumarski list br. 7–8: 331-336.

Tucker, G. M. and Heath, M. F. (1994) Birds in Europe: their conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series no. 3).

Tutiš, V., Kralj, J., Radović, D., Ćiković, D. and Barišić, S. (in press) Red Data Book of Birds of Croatia 2010. Zagreb, Croatia: State Institute for Nature Protection.

UICN France, MNHN, LPO, SEOF and ONCFS (2011) Liste rouge des espèces menacées en France – Chapitre Oiseaux de France métropolitaine.

Velevski, M., Hallmann, B., Grubač, B., Lisičanec, E., Stoynov, E., Lisičanec, E., Avukatov, V., Božič, L. and Štumberger, B. (in press) Important Bird Areas in Macedonia: sites of global and European importance. Acrocephalus.

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8 Responses to Archived 2011-2012 topics: Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca): uplist to Near Threatened?

  1. As mentioned in the text, the Rock Partridge was upgraded to NT in the recent revision of the Red List for breeding birds in Switzerland. The Rock Partridge is also considered a species of national conservation concern due to the international responsibility of Switzerland for the species. Populations of Rock Partridge in the Alps have always undergone strong fluctuations, mainly due to weather conditions: harsh winters with a high amount of snow lead to high mortality. In years with hot dry summers enabling a high reproductive output the population may recover. This was clearly reflected in the population trend, which shows high numbers in the years after the very hot summer 2003. In recent years, again following harsh winters and wet weather during the breeding season, the population crashed. It seems that habitat changes due to land abandonment have destroyed suitable breeding and wintering habitat at lower altitude. We therefore expect a range contraction in the future.

  2. Alberto Sorace says:

    I agree with the uplist of Rock Partridge to Near Threatened.
    According to data showed at the recent ‘First Conference on Mediterranean populations of the genus Alectoris’ (Sorace et al in press), the whole Apennine population of Rock Partridge was evaluated in 1939-2436 pairs.
    In some regions a further areale shrinkage was observed in the last 10-15 years.

    Sorace A., Artese C., Antonucci A., Bernoni M., Bonani M., Brusaferro A., Carafa M., Carotenuto L., Cortone P., De Filippo G., De Santis E., Forconi P., Fabrizio M., Fulco E., Guglielmi S., Latini R., Liberatoscioli Elena, Magrini Mauro, Mangiacotti Mario, Mariani Francesco, Pellegrini Massimo, Peria Emanuela, Pinchiurri Valerio, Properzi Silvia, Riga Francesco, Scalisi Marco, Spera Mariano, Trocchi Valter in press. Status and distribution of Alectoris graeca in Apennine areas. Proceedings of ‘First Conference on Mediterranean populations of the genus Alectoris’, Avocetta.

  3. As in the Swiss Alps, French populations of Rock partridge are listed as Near Threatened (NT). In France, the rock partridge is a vulnerable indicator species of mountain agro-pastoral ecosystems which is suffering a decline in marginal areas of its geographical range. Population monitoring during the recent 30 years (1981-2011) has shown a fluctuating trend in numbers and two severe declines. A study* has revealed that one of these declines could be explained by the succession of unfavourable meteorological events. Due to the vulnerability of the species to climatic events, research about the impact of climate change on rock partridge dynamics would be useful to make predictions about the population status in the future. Although such predictions are not yet available, we might expect a positive effect on the population in response to an increase of temperatures but a negative effect on the population in case of an increase of the frequency of extreme climatic events (e.g snowy winters or rainy summers).
    Whereas the abandonment of traditional farming practices is still the main cause of the decreased attractiveness of habitat for rock partridge and habitat loss, the increase of the mountain tourism industry has an additive impact on the dynamics of the alpine population. Outdoor winter activities have negative effects by causing high mortality of birds from collisions with drag lifts and cable cars and by disturbing birds on their winter grounds. In ski resorts, suitable natural habitats are also affected by the building of roads and mountain hostels.
    Upgrading the status of rock partridge to NT seems also justified for the populations in the Balkans. At Bolzano’s workshop, talks about the status of the species in the Balkans mentioned a decreasing trend (except in Greece).

    *BERNARD-LAURENT A. & LEONARD Y., 2000 – Vulnerability of an alpine population of rock partridge (Alectoris graeca saxatilis) to climatic events : evaluation with deterministic and stochastic models. Game and Wildlife Science, 17 (2) : 63-79.

  4. In the recent decades the range of distribution of the endemic subspecies Sicilian Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca whitakeri) has showed a significant reduction. In Sicily its cover varied from a value of 67% (Lo Valvo et al., 1993) to 56% in the 2009 (unpublished data) displaying a total reduction of 11% in the last 20 years . The distribution of the Sicilian populations is fragmented and some of the population seems to be isolated from the other ones. Fragmentation is caused mainly by the concomitant occurrence of different anthropogenic impacts, such as the modification of habitat (e.g. caused by fires and reforestation) and poaching activity. The poaching, related to the lack of control, does not permit population recovery also in the protected areas. As result, except few areas, Sicily is characterized by low density values (see Lo Valvo et al., 2011). To date the system of the protected areas network has covered only a reduced percentage of Rock Partridge suitable territory, highlighting the necessity to implement it in order to warrant the connections between crucial areas (Nelli et al., in press).

    LO VALVO M., MASSA B., SARÀ M., 1993. Uccelli e paesaggio in Sicilia alle soglie del terzo millennio. Naturalista sicil., 17 (suppl.): 1-376
    LO VALVO M., SORACE A., GIACALONE G., 2011. Censimento della popolazione di Coturnice di Sicilia nella ZPS ITA010029 Monte Cofano, Capo San Vito e Monte Sparagio. XVI Convegno Italiano di Ornitologia – Cervia – Milano Marittima (RA) 22/25.
    NELLI L.,MERIGGI A., LO VALVO M.., (in press). Sicilian Rock partridge (Alectoris graeca whitakeri): is the current protected area network enough?. Proceedings of ‘First Conference on Mediterranean populations of the genus Alectoris. Avocetta.

  5. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were sent by Zamir Dedej and Prof. Anesti Postoli on 23 January 2012:

    the species has been described as common in Albania, but due to the strong hunting activity start to be more and more a threatened species and . . . we do considered it as “endanger”

  6. Professor Christos G. Vlachos says:

    In respect to Birdlife allegations about a low Rock partridge population in Greece, it has to be outlined that they are not based in any scientific methodology or any scientific analysis of collected field data.

    Birdlife International uses two sources in order to present a low population for the species in Greece (Birdlife 2004, Handrinos & Katsadorakis 2009). These two publications though, just reproduce the results of an older work (Papaevangelou et al. 2001) which was based on data collected during 1992 and 1993 without any specific reference to the methodology used, or the geographic extension of the realized study. Thus in the work of Papaevangelou et al. (2001) there is not a clear scientific procedure proving how 7000-13000 Rock partridge breeding pairs are estimated for the country.

    On the other hand, the recent work “Rock partridge (Alectoris graeca graeca) population density and trends in central Greece (2011)” was realized for a total of 7 years as a co-operation between the Hunting Federation of Sterea Hellas and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki based on strict scientific basis. The work was firstly presented in September 2011 to the 30th IUGB Congress in Spain, then it was also invited in a workshop of specialists in Bolzano Italy (November 2011), and finally it was also invited to be published in the scientific journal ABC (Animal Biodiversity & Conservation) which is included in the Citation Index.

    In specific, this work which will be possibly published in mid 2012, includes the following:
    1) Data collection from the 25% of the species’ habitat in Greece
    2) Long term data collection from 2005 to 2011
    3) Data collection from the field which was based to the most adequate methodology according to recent scientific bibliography (line transect method with the use of pointing dogs)
    4) A total 2300 km censused from trained personnel (gamekeepers)
    5) Data were analyzed with the most appropriate software for producing population estimations, the DISTANCE software (Buckland et al., 2001)
    6) Definition of the species’ total habitat in national level with the use of GIS software
    7) Cross-examination and comparison with bag statistics for the species in national level
    8) Proved population stability during all 7 years of the study with the appropriate statistical models

    In conclusion, from the above study it is deduced that specifically for Greece there is no reason to uplist Rock partridge to Nearly Threatened, as Europe’s specialist Dr. Bernard Laurent also indicated in her comment.

    On the contrary, Rock partridge shouldn’t even be characterized as Vulnerable in Greece, since an average of 121.000 pairs is calculated for the species in national level, with a stable population since 2005.


    Birdlife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: Birdlife International (Birdlife Conservation Series no. 12)

    Bontzorlos V., Vlachos C.G., Chatzinikos E., Dedousopoulou E.A. & Kiousis D.K. 2011. Rock partridge Alectoris graeca graeca population density and trend in central Greece. 30th IUGB Congress Abstract Book: 115

    Buckland S.T., Anderson D.R., Burnham K.P., Laake J.L., Borchers D.L. & Thomas L. 2001. Introduction to distance sampling-estimating abundance of biological populations. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Handrinos G. and Katsadorakis G. 2009. Rock partridge Alectoris graeca. Pp. 290-291 in: Legakis A and Maragou P. (eds). The Red Data Book of Threatened Greek Animals. Hellenic Zoological Society, Athens 528 pp. [in Greek, with English Summary].

    Papaevangelou E., Thomaides C., Handrinos G. & Haralambides A. 2001. Status of partridge (Alectoris and perdix) species in Greece. Game and Wildlife Science, 18(3-4): 253-260

  7. Alectoris greaca occurs in the Austrian mainly in the southern and central parts of the Alps (pop. est. > 1200 pairs, F. Hafner unpubl. 2006). Carinthia holds the main part of the population in Austria with 500 – 800 pairs (Feldner et. al 2006: Avifauna Kärntens – Die Brutvögel). Tyrol comes second with ~ 250 pairs (population estimates for Tyrol for 2011, R. Lentner unpubl.). Ag is listed as vulnerable in the Austrian Red Data book and was upgraded in comparison to the previous Red List from 1994. Population trend is negative with high Austrian responsibility (10% of the subspecies saxatilis occurs) need for actions is stated (Frühauf J., 2005: Rote Liste der Brutvögel (Aves) Österreichs). Negative impact in lower parts of the Austrian Alps, mainly due to abandonment in Alpine pastures and increasing disturbance as a consequence of touristic activities seem to be the main threats (Landmann & Lentner, 2001: Die Brutvögel Tirols).
    Insufficient data did not allow to calculate reliable population trends for the Austrian population so far. But different surveys were made or are ongoing in different SPAs in Austria (e.g. NP Hohe Tauern) to improve data situation for alpine bird species including Rock Partridge and should increase significantly our population estimations and knowledge on distribution of this secret bird.
    To uplist the Rock Partridge to NT is comprehensible and I agree on that

  8. Ian Burfield says:

    Markus Nipkow (NABU) has provided the following information about the status of this species in Germany:

    Following the latest information from my LBV-colleague in Bavaria, Henning Werth, no breeding proof of the species could be brought forth until 2011, although there have been several (and quite regular!) observations of birds during the breeding season in a small area close to the border to Austria (in the German Alps). Keeping in mind that it is extraordinarily difficult to prove a brood of this species, experts suppose them breeding regularly:
    “On the basis of the scant records available we estimate that the Bavarian Alps currently hold about 2-9 territories.”
    (from: H.-G. BAUER et al. (2009): Rezentes Vorkommen und Status des Steinhuhns Alectoris graeca in Deutschland.- Limicola 23: 177-201.)

    We expect Alectoris graeca to be listed as a regular breeding species in the next Red List for Germany. However, there is no current information which may lead to general change of conservation aspects.
    The main conservation need will be to prevent the small breeding population from any disturbance (tourism, photographers, infrastructure and so on).

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