Thursday, June 06, 2013

Quail census

Hooray, hooray, it’s finally hot! Really hot! And that means… baby quail time in the Sonoran desert. Other people dread June, but I look forward to it. For some reason known only to Nature, the majority of baby quails around here are hatched during the hottest, driest part of the year.

The babies don’t mind, of course, because extreme heat is all they know. I’m wondering if this behavior evolved to make sure that any young quail who lasted till the end of the summer were REALLY fit.

Mr and Mrs Quail 5-28-2010 8-12-02 AM 2917x1531Mr. and Mrs. Gambel’s quail

The beautiful birds I am talking about are Gambel’s quail, small ground-dwellers who live in the deserts of southwestern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. They hang out in large flocks, called coveys, most of the year, but in late spring they start to pair off, and once they’ve got families going they become very hostile to each other.

dorm tree better 7-28-2007 11-31-05 AM 2304x1728The “dorm” tree where quail roost in the front of my house.

I became obsessed with Gambel’s quail shortly after we moved to our new home in the desert, eight years ago. They roosted around the property, and particularly in a Meyer’s lemon tree next to our front door. I called it the dorm tree, and watched the quail go to roost for about an hour every night for a couple of years. During the day I observed them out in my bird garden, where I keep a quail block. Nothing they did was too small to escape my attention. I began to think of myself as the Jane Goodall of quails.

Nine quail eggs 4-23-2010 10-39-44 AM 3616x2712 Quail eggs

I still keep track of the new families. Here is what we have right now: a family of three half-grown chicks; a second family that started out with twelve little fuzzballs, and now is down to eight sixth-graders; a new family of five very little chicks—nursery school age, I would guess--and another family of three first-grade chicks. I expect to see more new families every day or so from now till the end of the month.

Papa Quail early June 6-6-2011 9-34-53 AM 726x848  Handsome papa quail keeping guard while his family feeds

The father of the largest family is very aggressive. When they are fighting or competing for females, male quails jump up and bump chests, much like NBA basketball players. A few days ago I saw this particular father lower his head to the ground and charge another quail like a bull. Sometimes he spreads his wings and tail like a turkey and simply runs at a foe. Today I watched him chase away white-winged doves, rabbits, squirrels, and innumerable other quails. Some of his offspring have begun to imitate him, charging at sparrow babies and apparently scaring the heck out of them.

There are more stories about quail than anything else in this blog. Here are some of my favorites:

A quail explosion (caused by a hawk)

The sad story of an abandoned quail baby

A post with photos of teeny-tiny babies on my porch

And finally, a video of teeny babies and their mama, also on the porch

If all that isn’t enough quail-ness for you, just search the blog for dozens more quail posts. I will update the quail census from time to time during the Blogathon.


  1. What a wonderful compilation! And great photos to boot! I remember most of these stories, the cheery and the sad.

    1. Thanks on all counts. I do love those little guys.