Quail Nesting Fun Facts

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A few interesting tidbits about this crucial time of the year

Summertime is here, and with these long days of warmth and sunshine also comes the time when next fall’s upland success will be determined. Yes, it’s hatching and nesting time across the quail range, and with six species that occupy widely varying landscapes stretching across the entirety of the nation, our native quail are easily our most widely dispersed upland gamebird species. From the Atlantic to the Pacific and virtually every niche in between, you will most likely find some species of quail nesting and raising young this time of year.

With so much diversity of habitat and species and region, it’s hard to pin down when, exactly, the peak time of hatching and brood-rearing for quail occurs. Regional weather and habitat conditions will certainly play a part, but generally speaking, nesting and brood-rearing for our native quail begins as early as April and can occur as late as October, with the “peak” usually falling somewhere in June and July.

So if you happen to be out roaming the uplands this time of year, remember to keep the dogs leashed, step lightly and keep your eyes peeled toward the ground. If you’re lucky, you just might spy the genesis of next fall’s upland dreams.

Here are a few interesting tidbits about this often-overlooked yet vitally important period.

Living on the edge »

Studies have shown that most bobwhite quail nests are built within 50 feet or fewer of a field edge or trail, and often within 10 feet. Quail need different types of cover for different purposes, so these edge zones are important components of nesting success.

Mow no more »

During the nesting period, quail can be susceptible to mowing-caused mortality. Why? Because roadsides and ditches that tend to get mown a lot can also provide nesting, brood-rearing, and winter cover for quail, and in many areas are the only available nesting areas. So leave the mower in the shed, save a quail.

Family matters »

Northern bobwhite hens will often nest two and often three times in a single season. Hens that successfully raise a brood early in the season will regularly try to re-nest and raise another. Bobwhites are also polygamous, and it’s not unusual for a female to abandon her first clutch to start a new nest, leaving the eggs for the male to incubate. In fact, some years up to 25 percent of all nests are incubated by males. Moreover, hens with chicks are known to abandon their brood to another adult once the chicks reach 20 to 30 days of age and re-nest while conditions may still be favorable.

Once a clutch of eggs is hatched, within a few hours adult quail will lead the chicks away to a safer spot with plenty of feeding and escape cover. Adult body warmth helps keep young chicks warm until they develop the ability to thermoregulate their own body temperature.

Quail Lullaby »

Female gambel’s are known to call to their chicks just prior to hatching, with the chicks returning the call from inside the egg. Shortly thereafter, the chicks will hatch in unison.

Eat to grow »

Quail chicks are voracious eaters, and these tiny little bumblebee-sized dinosaurs will eat much and grow quickly, adding 10 times their weight in a month, and by 16 weeks are essentially adult size. And it’s bugs — the same kind found in pollinator plots — that fuel that growth. Soft-bodied bugs, high in protein and fats, fuel that growth – crickets, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, weevils, beetles, caterpillars, spiders and more.

Sticking Close to Home »

Quail chicks that don’t have to travel longer distances in search of food limit their exposure to danger, which in turn increases survival, which in turn means more birds this fall. And what keeps quail chicks from roaming? High-quality habitat with high numbers of the bugs chicks need.

It's a hard knock life »

Even in good years and in good habitat, not many hatchlings will make it to their first birthday. Fewer than 20 percent of a brood will reach a year old. Predation and weather events are the primary factors in mortality. The adult quail you see in the fall have run a fearsome gauntlet and are survivors, but even then, most of those quail that survived their first year will never see their second.

Courtship curiosities »

Thought to be monogamous, male scaled quail participate in a courting ritual in the spring, known as “tidbitting.” Males will peck at the ground, bob their heads, high step and erect feathers along their neck and flanks to appeal to a nearby female.

All mixed up »

Gambel’s quail have been known to breed with scaled quail, resulting in a hybrid that has been termed a ‘scramble. And bobwhites will sometimes hybridize with scaled quail, producing a “blob.”

Quail probiotics? »

California quail chicks are known to peck at adult feces, thereby obtaining a protozoan that helps them digest.

Remember: The covey rises you crave in the fall are made in the summer, so next time you hear that distinctive whistle on a crisp December morning, or the egg-beater sound of a flushing quail, take a moment to marvel at the fact that what you’re hearing is actually the sound of summer, all grown up.