The quail is one of the most common birds in Russia, which are seasonally hunted in the wild. Also, these birds are bred in poultry farms and home farms – their meat is very tasty, and their eggs are nutritious. But these little birds are not as simple as they seem at first glance.
Origin of the species and description
Quail (or common quail) is a bird that belongs to the pheasant family. This family includes eight extant species. Pheasants are a diverse family that includes birds of various sizes, lifestyles and habitats.
The following features unite different birds:
- birds do not form long-term pairs, the male, as a rule, has several females;
- expressed secondary sexual characteristics of males;
- their color differs from the color of females, is brighter;
- notch at posterior edge of sternum, short phalanx of hind toe;
- spurs, rounded wings.
Birds of the family rarely fly, although they know how to do it. Due to their heavy, but elongated body structure and movable neck, they run fast and prefer to nest in families on the ground, in tall grass or bushes. Because of this way of life, they often become the prey of large and small predators, and have also become the object of human hunting. Pheasant meat is highly valued on the game market.
Fun fact: Some pheasant species can interbreed with each other.
During nesting males fight to leave offspring. Eggs are laid in a nest – a depression in the ground, insulated with dry leaves and grass. Some families form small packs.
Appearance and Features
Quail is a small bird, about 16-22 cm long. The weight of the female is about 91 grams, the weight of the male is 130 grams. The plumage of the bird is gray, with small white patches – this color allows it to better camouflage in dry grass. The head, back, tail have reddish, fawn stripes, and above the eyes there are long white arcs. The body of the quail is as compact as possible so that it can better camouflage and run fast. Its teardrop-shaped, streamlined body, short tail, and pointed wings allow it to gain momentum while running. Feathers are not adapted to a humid climate, but provide thermoregulation, cool the body in the heat.
Quails have short wings that completely cover their body, a small head and a long, thin neck. Massive paws allow them to run fast, overcome obstacles and dig up the ground in search of seeds or to build a nest. Despite the claws on their paws, quails do not know how to defend themselves from predators. Distinctive features of males and females appear already by the third week of life after the appearance of the chick. Males grow faster, get bigger and gain weight.
Interesting fact: Unlike other species of the pheasant family, neither male nor female quails have spurs.
Males differ from females: they have a reddish chest (whereas in females it is white), yellow tan marks above the eyes and near the beak. They themselves are larger in size, but still prefer to avoid predators than fight. The claws of males are longer and stronger, as they need them to fight with each other during the mating season.
Where does the quail live?
This is a very common bird that has become popular as a game bird in many parts of the world.
It is common in:
- Northern Africa;
- Western Asia;
- Madagascar (there birds often stay for the whole year without flights due to the small number of natural enemies);
- in the east of Lake Baikal and throughout central Russia.
Common quail, which is common in Russia, is divided into two types: European and Japanese. Japanese birds are domesticated in Japan and are now bred in poultry farms for meat and eggs, so their numbers in the wild have been reduced. The European quail is the most common. Due to the nomadic lifestyle, the bird flies long distances for the sake of nesting. Nests are located up to Middle Iran and Turkmenistan, where she arrives in early April. To the north – in central Russia – flocks of quails fly in early May with already grown chicks. winter hut – many birds rise into the air and are easy to hit. For such hunting, trained dogs are used, which bring the shot bird to the hunter.
The bird prefers to settle in the steppes and fields than in the forest. This is due to its penchant for a terrestrial lifestyle, in addition, they build nests in the ground. Quails love dry climates and can’t stand too low temperatures.
What do quails eat?
Quails are omnivorous birds that spend a significant part of their lives in the harsh conditions of central Russia. Therefore, their diet is balanced – these are seeds, cereals, green grass (quinoa, wood lice, alfalfa, dandelion, wild onion), roots and insects. In the wild, the chicks of these birds eat the most protein foods: beetle larvae, earthworms and other “soft” insects.
With age, the bird switches to a more plant-based diet – this is due to the fact that the body stops growing and needs a lot of proteins. While it is important for the chicks to grow up quickly and start flying in order to prepare for a long flight between countries and continents in a month. Chicks that do not eat enough protein food will simply die during the flight or get predators.
Since quails are widely used as poultry, their diet is slightly different from the usual “wild”. Chicks are given cottage cheese mixed with hard-boiled egg protein as protein and calcium. Sometimes corn flour is added there so that the mass does not stick together.
Adult birds are fed ready-made quail food – chicken food is not suitable for them. It includes all kinds of vitamins and bran, so that the birds get fat and lay eggs. Instead of feed, you can mix corn and millet grains, sometimes adding boiled eggs and cottage cheese.
Interesting fact: Due to the omnivorous nature of birds, they can digest boiled chicken meat, so they can replace worms and bugs from the “wild” diet of quails.
Birds are also fed their usual herbs, including among them they give mild homemade green onions – this strengthens the weakened immunity of poultry. In winter, which is unusual for them, it is preferable to give chopped dried grass, which is mixed with regular food.
Also, quails in the wild and at home can eat:
- fish bones or fishmeal;
- sunflower seeds, whole grains. Their birds are found in agricultural fields;
- peas, crushed shells;
- crushed shells or whole thinned shells as a calcium supplement.
Now you know how to feed the quail. Let’s see how a bird lives in the wild.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Quails are peaceful birds that have no means of protection other than camouflage. In the spring time, they go to the agricultural fields, where they feed on crops and dig up vegetables. On such a diet, birds quickly get fat, which is why they often die in flight. Birds are preparing for the flight when the air temperature begins to drop below zero degrees. By this time, the chicks have already grown stronger and learned to fly, so the quails stray into large shoals. But in regions where above zero temperatures prevail, quails can settle for whole years, although they are instinctively predisposed to fly.
Bird flights can take several weeks – during such “marathons” only the strongest birds survive. For example, from Eastern Siberia, some species of quail fly to India for wintering, which takes them three and a half weeks. By the end of the warm season, quails gather in small flocks (sometimes they are whole families with chicks and polygamous parents) – this is how they keep warm at night. From the southern regions of Russia, they fly away in September and closer to October.
Due to weak wings and body constitution not conducive to flight, they make frequent stops (unlike the same swallows or swifts). Because of this, birds become endangered by predators and hunters – by the end of the flight, about 30 percent of the birds die. The tenacious paws of birds are especially necessary for them when searching for seeds and insects in the hard soil of central Russia. But they do not tolerate plumage pollution, so the daily “habits” of birds include cleaning feathers and cleansing their nest of excess quarrel. In the same way, by cleaning out feathers, they get rid of skin parasites.
Each female has her own nest – only males do not have it, since they are mainly busy on duty, looking for possible danger. The nest is a small hole in the ground, which the birds dig with massive clawed paws. The hole is lined with dry grass and branches.
Social structure and reproduction
Birds nest in flocks of 15-20 individuals. This number makes them more likely to avoid confrontation with predators and survive during the onset of harsh cold weather. Basically, they make up a flock of females and several males, which fertilize several quails. In May or June, when the quails feel the rising heat, their breeding season begins. Males seek mates and engage in bouts that can range from peaceful singing (the best “singer” will get the right to mate) to fights that can be fierce.
Interesting Fact: Quail fights, along with cockfights, are popular with people, but are not as bloody due to the lack of spurs on their paws.
Female puberty occurs at the age of one year – this is quite late for fast-developing birds, but the late age is compensated by the number of chicks that one quail can produce. The female digs the nest and equips it for future offspring. The nesting of the flock depends on how fertile the land is – often they are located near agricultural fields.
To build a nest, the quail uses not only branches and grass, but also its own fluff. At one time, a bird can lay up to 20 eggs, which is a lot compared to chickens (three times more). The male does not take any part in caring for the female, but she does not leave the nest for two weeks, even in case of severe hunger and thirst. During the incubation period, females are most vulnerable to predators.
Chicks hatch independent and strong, already at the age of one and a half months they become full-fledged almost adult birds. From the first day they independently search for food, they are able to elude a predator. Mothers often form a kind of “crèche” in which a group of quails looks after a large brood.
The developed maternal instinct gave quail mothers one interesting feature that is observed in many sedentary birds (for example, pheasants and partridges). If a small predator appears nearby, such as a weasel or a fox, the quail still leaves the nest, but pretends that its wing is injured. With short flights, she takes the predator away from the nest, then takes off high and returns to the clutch – the animal is left with nothing and loses the trail of prey.
Natural enemies of quails
Quails are food for many predators of the forest and forest-steppe.
First of all, these are:
- foxes. They attack quails at night, when they are not able to escape from the attack in thick grass. Foxes are one of the main enemies of quails, since it is they who mainly support the population of these birds in the norm;
- wolves. These large predators rarely leave the forest zone, but during hungry periods they are able to track down quails. Although, due to their large size and sluggishness, wolves can rarely catch a nimble bird;
- ferrets, weasels, ermines, martens. Agile predators are the best hunters of these birds as they move as fast as quails. But most of all they are interested in chicks;
- falcons and hawks. They prefer to follow flocks of birds during seasonal migration, thus providing themselves with food for a long period of time;
- hamsters, ground squirrels, other rodents. Quails themselves are not interested in them, but they do not mind eating eggs, so they sometimes destroy nests if they can get to hatching eggs.
Natural enemies do not threaten the number of quails, which cannot be said about hunting, because because of it the species of the common quail could disappear.
Population and species status
Quail is the target of both sport hunting and hunting for meat. In the USSR, quail hunting was most widespread, so their destruction took place on an industrial scale. In the forest-steppe region, birds have disappeared almost completely; at this time, two species of the pheasant family were destroyed. But thanks to their fertility, the quail did not die out completely.
Breeding played a significant role in the preservation of the population of the species. In the last century, the Japanese domesticated the Japanese quail and began to breed it in poultry farms. The bird was almost not subjected to selection, and the species was preserved in a huge number of individuals. Also, the number of quails began to decline due to another anthropogenic factor – the cultivation of agricultural land.
There are a number of reasons for the death of birds:
- firstly, this is the destruction of their natural habitat . Mother hens that cannot leave the nest while incubating eggs, dozens died under the wheels of agricultural vehicles;
- secondly, the treatment of seeds and plants that quails feed on pesticides that their stomach is not able to digest;
- thirdly, the destruction of their habitual habitats and their food. Plants, insects, the comfortable territory of the forest-steppe ceased to exist during the mass cultivation of land in the USSR, due to which quails were deprived of the opportunity to breed and, accordingly, the population was declining.
Name even the approximate number of birds at this time the moment is difficult, but it is reliably known that the species is not on the verge of extinction and does not need protection. Thanks to widespread breeding on large farms and in the home, quails have restored the population in less than half a century, and their numbers are growing.
Quails are birds that are valuable both in nature and at home. In the forest-steppes, they form an important part of the food chain, and for humans they are tasty meat and eggs, which birds produce in large quantities. Quails are not difficult to keep, so people quickly learned to breed them on an industrial scale. The quail is one of the most “lucky” representatives of the pheasant family.