Quirky quail

Quail Chick photos by Terry Stevens

Quail Chick photos by Terry Stevens

Quail eggs hatch at Liberty Wildlife

Quail eggs hatch at Liberty Wildlife

In mid August the monsoon rains have graced the ocotillo and elephant trees with fresh leaves and encouraged the sprouting of summer annuals. I surprised a small Gambel’s quail family on the trail. Zigzagging single file they sprinted toward the cover of an arching Palo Verde tree, mom in the lead, dad in the middle and a single thumb-sized chick scrambling to keep up. They ran in classic quail fashion, necks out, top knots bobbing. A few days later another tiny chick was whisked to a hiding place behind an ocotillo by an adult male as I approached. These sightings are odd because Gambel’s quail babies usually appear in June.
According to Pinau Merlin, these quail produce just one brood per year, but pairs that did not breed successfully in spring will try again given generous summer rains. Early in the season, quail forage on succulent vegetation. In fact females require the vitamin A found in leafy greens for development of her reproductive organs. In years of drought, when the desert floor lies barren, she’ll be physically unable to breed. Nature’s birth control ensures that baby quail have a fighting chance of survival. After the salads of spring have withered with heat, quail parents teach their young to find grains, seeds, mesquite beans and the fruits of cacti. Summer also brings plenty of insects, particularly ants and beetles that the quail peck and devour.
Females generally lay 10-12 eggs, so my observation of two families with just one chick illustrates the challenges facing youngsters. Quail nest on the ground and coyotes, round tail ground squirrels, Gila monsters, kingsnakes and gopher snakes find the eggs delectable. The precocial babies run after their parents within minutes of hatching, but that is often not enough. Quail babies need heat, temperatures above 90 degrees, and water, but not too much of either. They also rely on the safety offered by the covey. A baby quail alone is extremely vulnerable to predation.
Given all that, quail seem plentiful here in the suburbs that edge the desert preserves. Keep your eyes open, perhaps you will see some of the rare late-summer cutest of chicks. If not, there is a great YouTube of quail chicks.


2 responses to “Quirky quail

  1. End of Week 2 Term 3. We are finally tinryg to keep our blog a little more updated. We have had two good weeks back at school. Watch out for the updated blog as we become forensic scientists with Science Alive next week. Have a good weekend

  2. I recently released a “covey” of quail raised at Liberty Wildlife….they performed on cue…digging, pecking at the ground, peeping up a storm, and dust bathing….a blast to watch! Long live the quail. Thanks for spreading the word.

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