Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quail Tales

We are now in the heart of dry summer, the time of year when it is blisteringly hot with no clouds anywhere, and the time when the entire desert seems alive with young Gambel’s quail, ranging in age from newly-hatched champagne corks to sparrow-sized teenagers.

I love watching these little guys, and each family group I see adds to my store of information on quail behavior. Several large family groups have visited my backyard bird pond in the last week. The largest group had at least fifteen chicks, but counting them exactly was like trying to count the individual particles in a microscopic view of Brownian motion.

                            cu quailAdult male Gambel’s quail

Quail Tale 1: Yesterday a family with six or seven very young chicks came tumbling into the garden through the chain-link fence. The parents easily crossed the pond, stepping on rocks that stick up out of the water. Most of the chicks easily followed, except for two who, reaching the largest rock in the pond, did a sudden double-take and looked at the vast expanse (maybe three inches)  of water they must cross. They both stood on the rock like little kids on a diving board, clearly getting up their courage to jump. Finally one tried—and fell into the water. It clambered back on the rock, shook itself off, and this time used its wings to assist. Its brother or sister followed soon after.

Quail Tale 2: The other afternoon I saw a group of five teenage quails (about the size of the ones in the video below) in the front yard. There were no adults with them as they pecked at something under the pyracantha bush. A pair of white-winged doves approached, interested in whatever the quails were eating. All of the quails immediately attacked the much-larger doves with their beaks, running at them and eventually driving them off. They acted like a gang of teenage bullies, but I think maybe they are on their own and have to hang tough to survive.

Quail in Sundial Plaza at Tohono Chul Park

Quail Tale 3: This is a video from Tohono Chul Park yesterday morning. These youngsters are what I consider high-school age. They were gathered beneath a seed feeder in the Sundial Plaza. The biggest one, with the comma-shaped topknot, is the father.


  1. Anonymous5:25 AM

    I especially enjoyed the video. I had no idea how many quail babies I was missing. Sue

  2. A few weeks ago someone was complaining that it's a bad quail year because they hadn't seen many babies. But the real population boom always begins in early June when it gets very hot. As I said in an earlier post, the little chicks must think that the world they were born into is always like this--the fires of hell.

  3. Nice video! I live for the annual quail tales!

    1. I've been trying to get a photo or video of the little bitty guys, but the parents are so protective of them it's impossible to get close enough. I'll keep trying, though the opportunities are dwindling.

  4. bats :[9:51 AM

    Teenage quail thugs...growing up on the mean streets of the Catalina Foothills. Life is cheep!