June 13, 2017

We have babies!! California quail babies that is. Well technically they are chicks, but it feels like we’ve had a part in their becoming so they’re babies.

Did I mention I am excited?

That’s because due to a brush pile that Rob created last fall we’ve had quail living just outside the front door all spring.

Brush pile between house and garden

Can you spot the quail?

This pile of brush is about 15 feet from the house and we walk by them all the time as they scurry in and out of the pile.

Normally we whistle as we go out the door just to let them know we are coming, and they recognise the sound and ignore us.  Forget to whistle and you’ll hear a whirl of wings and quails flying everywhere.

There is about 20 quail that visit the yard. Not all live in the brush pile but they seem to hang out there during the day.

Quail's home in the brush pile

The one thing that the male quail like to do is to get up as high as possible and survey the surroundings standing like sentinels.

In the picture above you can see where the quail is at the time of the picture being taken, but he is often at the top of the clothes line pole or on the big cedar stump.

Male California Quail keeping guard

That was the scene for most of the spring until about the first week in May.

That’s when I was walking down the stairs on the back porch and spotted something that looked a little out of place.

It was an egg. Not only that but a quails egg.

Quail egg at bottom of stairs

It looked like the hen just walked by and had an egg laying accident. The egg was cold and out in the open so it must have been an uncontrolled eggection!

After that, there was no more harmony at the brush pile. The males started pairing off with the females and one day I watched as a couple were strolling around the yard and another male spotted them from its high perch.

It swooped down and got between the couple and all H E double hockey sticks broke out.

The female hunkered down in the grass and the 2 cocks started a donnybrook.

Male California quail sparring

They did a dance all around the yard ending up at the brush pile where they had a smack down. It was like watching Pro Wrestling on a Saturday night. I guess that’s why they call it a cockfight.

It ended up with the male going back to his lady and the challenger heading into the brush pile.

All in a day’s work!

Then came the day when the hen was acting odd.

First, she had a dust bath which is usually taken right in front of the brush pile and where one needs to watch out for ankle bending holes as they walk by.

Once the dust bath was complete they (because there is always a male with her now) started off around the yard. But this time it was a little different than normal.

I have no idea why she was doing this, but she would eat, walk a little, shake, then jump up in the air and squawk.

Then the cycle would start again interrupted occasionally by some grooming.

It was the strangest thing.

Female California quail squawking and jumping

She continued doing this for about 15 minutes until they went into the forest.

One can only speculate as to the nature of her performance as I’ve never seen this behaviour before.

As an observer of birds, I am constantly learning.

Once the saw the egg, I knew that babies couldn’t be far behind. I looked it up and it takes approximately 21-23 days for the chicks to hatch.

The hen lays a large clutch of up to 12-14 eggs and could be a lot more than that as sometimes other hens lay in the same nest.

So today, I was out on the deck and noticed a movement over in the flower garden. They were well camouflaged, so you didn’t see them until they moved. Then they were all over the place. I didn’t get a full count as I was busy taking pictures, but there was a least 10 and probably a dozen.

They seemed to follow the cock rather than the hen and they scurried alongside him eating their way through the grass.

The quail chicks are like the killdeer chick whereas they come out walking from the egg as soon as their feathers dry and are able to run and eat on their own immediately. They are called a precocial species which means they are mobile and leave the nest shortly after they emerge from the egg.

California quail chicks with dad

These chicks were only 1 or 2 days old. We were away for a day and they weren’t there on Saturday. So either they were born on Sunday or Monday morning when I saw them.

When the parents stopped to feed, some of the little ones would crouch down in a bundle and huddle together. Then they would spring up and grab a few bugs.

In doing some research it appears that chicks eat mainly bugs in their childhood and then progress to a more plant and seed based diet of the adults.

1-2 day old California quail chick

Looking at the picture above I could see that the wings are not yet fully developed yet. They just look like little pin feathers waiting for the real ones to arrive.

Right now I’m on cat patrol as I saw a feral cat crouched under the bushes awaiting a tiny morsel. Time for a relocation job. 

Advantages of having quail:

  • we love to watch them
  • most of the year they are very social and travel in a large covey
  • they eat bugs
  • they clean up the dropped seed under the bird feeders
  • they are like watch dogs and you know if anyone is coming
  • I hear they are good eating, but we aren’t going there
  • they have baby quail which are fascinating to watch grow up
  • and I totally delight in them

Disadvantages of having quail:

  • they take dust baths in the middle of the path causing unsuspecting hole for one’s feet
  • they love nothing better than to snuggle down in my garden beds disarraying all the plants
  • they snip off the tops of the tender seedlings in the garden necessitating the need for netting over the top of plants
  • during breeding season the cock will get up on his perch and vocalise for hours letting everyone else know this is his territory
  • if your not paying attention they can scare the wits out of you as you come around the house

The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and I’m grateful they chose my yard to make their home and raise their families.