Thursday, April 3, 2014

The first Gambel's Quail chicks of the year!

Today we celebrated Randy's birthday with an early morning walk to the Red Tail Hawk nest. Finally, a chick, still white and fluffy, was visible. Of course we had the dogs with us and they discovered some great new toys: Our rodeo-riding neighbor had brought in a fresh herd of cattle.
So luckily everybody was nicely tired out when we returned home.

During our unusually calm entrance I noticed a male quail quietly guarding the corner of our brick patio. It made me curious, because these guys are usually boisterous and noisy. When I saw him slipping into a small raised bed of Barrio Petunias I was fairly sure that I would find a quail nest full of eggs in there.

The Barrio Petunias are among the few plants in our garden that we water regularly and generously. But before flooding whatever was in there, I wanted to carefully check. Well, not careful enough, because mom took off with a shriek. But when she was gone, I kept hearing little voices.

Quail nest some years ago in nearly the same location
 So I bent the plant stems apart. I didn't expect much of an actual nest. Quail really don't bother with a lot of nesting material, they just lay their many eggs in a tightly packed clutch on the ground. In this case, most or all of the eggs were empty shells already. But right next to them, something moved.

All the little hatchlings were still there, fresh out of the eggs but already dry and fluffy. I felt very privileged to witness this short moment that these precocious birds spend at the nest.

Can you see the little egg tooth on top of the beak? It's used to scrape open the eggshell from the inside, and is lost very soon after hatching.
The panicky exit of their mother had send some chicks hiding in the plants around the nest, but soon they all instinctively huddled together again in one tight clump. video click here

Being kids, they quickly forgot their scare and began pecking around, pecking at everything in their surroundings, including their siblings toes. I took some photos, resisting the idea to use the flash to brighten up the very deep shadows. The parents were calling close by, so I let them be. From a distance, I saw the female slip back under the Barrio Petunia. I know the family will not stay around the nest too long, they may be gone tomorrow.

Maybe I'll see them at the feeder or the bird bath, and hopefully in a bigger group than this one from last year.

When Randy checked the next morning, only broken egg shells were left behind. Empty Nest Syndrome!


  1. Oh, lucky you! Very high cuteness factor! May they all live to adulthood.

  2. Oh that video is so wonderful! Thanks for sharing it!

  3. This is great - I started raising quail last month and really enjoy having them. It's my hope to raise them on a larger scale and release some back into nature. -Great pictures! -Carole

    1. Interesting. Do you think their numbers are lower in your area than the habitat could support? Here we have plenty of quail offspring. What's lacking is rain, undisturbed habitat and insects to give them proteins. The insect production is of course dependent on precipitation, native plants in gardening, and the absence of pesticides and herbicides.

  4. Beautiful photos and story. That is a handsome adult bird and those chicks are just too cute. How wonderful to have them nesting on your patio!

  5. How neat to get to see them just after hatching!!!

  6. I live in Connecticut, but grew up in AZ. One of the things I miss most are quail! I miss their calls, and hearing them 'talk' to each other. They seem to have personality. Thanks for the post, it cheered my heart.

  7. Any day know, any day now, I haven't seen my first quail chicks yet, I can't wait :) I love your painting, you've captured their essence perfectly.