Quail, any of several small game birds of the pheasant suborder. Quails are stout birds with sturdy legs and curved bills. Their feathers are usually brown, speckled with white, black, or chestnut. These colors blend well with the grassy surroundings in which the birds live. Although capable of flight, quails are usually seen on the ground. They feed on weed seeds and insects. Quite beneficial to farmers, they are protected by laws in several states. European quails, unlike most members of the family, are migratory birds, spending the winter in Africa and India and the summer in Europe. American quails do not migrate.

Gambel's quailGambel's quail has a large dark patch on the belly and lives in desert regions.

The most common North American quail is called the bobwhite in the North and the partridge in the South. It ranges from Maine to South Dakota, southward to Florida, the Gulf Coast, and southern Mexico. It is the only quail that nests in the eastern half of North America.

The bobwhite is named for the sound of its clear, whistling call. The bird averages 8 to 11 inches (20 to 28 cm) in length. Bobwhites gather in small flocks, or coveys, which may be composed of several families. In spring the coveys separate and each male selects a nesting area. The nest, a hollow scratched in the ground, is lined with leaves or grass and is usually concealed under vegetation, logs, or rocks. The female lays about 10 white eggs. The young are covered with down and follow the mother as soon as they are hatched.

Western quails include Gambel's quail and the California quail, California's state bird. Gambel's quail lives in the dry desert regions of the Southwest. It has a large dark patch on the belly. The California quail, gray, with a topknot (crest of feathers), is found in the mountains and valleys of California.

What Is Under All Those Feathers?

Underneath a quail’s feathers are skin, muscles, bones, and organs. Some of these organs make up the quail’s digestive system, which allows the bird to take in and use food. The esophagus (ee SOF uh guhs), crop, gizzard (GIHZ uhrd), and small intestine are parts of the quail’s digestive system. So are the bird’s bill and mouth.

A quail has a heart and brain, too. The heart pumps blood to all parts of the body through the circulatory system. The brain controls the bird’s nervous system and behavior.

What’s for Dinner If You’re a Quail?

Quail are not strong fliers, swimmers, or waders, because they do not need to be. They search for food, or forage, almost entirely on the ground.

Plump quail may look like slow-moving birds, but they have strong legs and are quite nimble on the ground. They also have strong toes, which are perfect for scraping up roots or uncovering fallen seeds. Quail will also reach for low-hanging fruits, flowers, and leaves.

Sometimes, a quail will scrape up or chase after insects, too. Insects are an especially important part of a young quail’s diet. Insects contain important nutrients (NOO tree uhntz), or nourishment, that the quail needs to grow.

All animals need water as well as food. Quail, however, can live on very little water—as little as one-half teaspoon a day. Quail can get this small amount of water just from the plants they eat.

Why Do Quail Swallow Pebbles and Sand?

When humans eat, they put the food into their mouths. Then they chew the food, using their hard teeth to grind it up, before swallowing it.

Birds do not have teeth. But they have a special way to grind up hard food. They have a gizzard. A gizzard is the strong, muscular part of a bird’s digestive system.

Such birds as quail peck at the ground to pick up gravel—small pebbles and bits of sand. A bird swallows the gravel, which ends up in the gizzard. Muscular contractions cause the gizzard to squeeze and re-squeeze its contents. This squeezing causes the small, sharp pieces of gravel to grind up the food in the gizzard. Eventually, a bird passes the gravel as waste. Then the bird needs to swallow more gravel to keep its digestive system working properly.

How Does a Quail Care for Its Young?

Like other birds, quail build nests in which to lay their eggs. Unlike songbirds, though, quail build their nests on the ground. It might be either the male or the female quail that chooses the nesting spot behind tall grass or bushes. He or she then scrapes a shallow hole and lines it with soft grass and leaves. Then the female lays her eggs in the nest.

The quail brood the eggs—that means they sit on them to keep them warm—until they hatch. Either the male or the female quail may sit on the eggs to warm them. The eggs take from between two and three weeks to hatch.

The newly hatched chicks need protection. As soon as possible, the parents lead their chicks away from the nest. The broken eggshells might make predators hungry for dinner. When danger is near, the quail chicks run to hide under a parent’s wing.

Young quail do not need care for very long. They are able to eat food on their own right away. About one week after hatching, they can fly.

What Is a Covey of Quail?

A covey (KUHV ee) is a name for a flock or group of quail. A covey may have 10 or fewer birds or as many as 100 or more, depending upon the species of quail.

Quail usually form coveys in the fall and winter. During breeding season, the covey breaks up as pairs split off from it to breed and raise their young.

Quail in a covey snuggle together when they roost, or settle down to rest or sleep. Snuggling up to each other’s warm bodies keeps the group warm on chilly nights. Some kinds of quail may not actually generate enough warmth individually to survive a cold night.

Quail often search for food in a covey rather than by themselves. Together, they march away from their roosting place to forage in early morning and again in late afternoon. They have a better chance of escaping a predator it they stay in a group.

How Do Quail Escape from Predators?

Because quail cannot fly very well, it is no wonder that they are preyed upon by such animals as foxes, coyotes, and other predators. But, quail have ways to protect themselves, too. When predators come near, quail—which are very fast runners—may run into a thicket where they can escape by staying hidden.

Quail feathers are mostly brown, tan, gray, or white, with a pattern of spots or stripes. These feathers help quail to hide among grass, fallen branches, and leaves. The camouflage (KAM uh flahzh) makes it hard for a predator to see the quail.

What happens when a predator comes near a covey? Often, the quail fly straight up, quite suddenly, beating their wings loudly. The noise and motion will often startle the predator, giving the covey time to get away. Humans make use of this behavior when hunting quail. A bird dog first locates the quail for the hunter; when the hunter gives a signal, the dog runs into the covey and flushes them (causes them to fly up). The quail then are an easier target for the hunter.

How Fast Are Quail?

Quail are pretty fast runners for birds. When a quail is in a hurry, it can run about 20 feet (6 meters) in one second. Although a quail would have a hard time outrunning a predator over long distances, it is fast enough to dart out of a predator’s grasp and into the thicket.

Although quail fly only for short distances, some can fly quite fast. One of the fastest quail is the California quail. It has been timed flying at speeds of more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour. The northern bobwhite can fly at about 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour for short flights.

Who Is Bob White?

Anyone who has visited the countryside is likely to have heard a bird call that sounded like “bob-WHITE.”The bird that makes that call is the northern bobwhite quail. So, that is who Bob White is—a common quail that is found in the central and eastern United States and in Mexico.

The northern bobwhite lives in grasslands and brush areas near forests. It has striking markings on its head. But it does not have a crest, or topknot, as do certain other types of quail, such as the mountain quail.

Who Cries “chu KAHR!”?

The chukar does! In fact, this type of quail gets its name from the call it makes.

Chukars originally lived only in Asia. But like the ring-necked pheasant and the gray partridge, people brought the chukar to North America for sport. Today, many chukars survive in the wild in Canada and the western United States.Unlike many other birds, the male and female of the species look very similar to one another. They are both fairly small, stocky grayish-blue birds with brownish backs and white bellies. Chukars have a black band above their red bill. The band goes across their face and neck like a mask. They also have red rings around their eyes, and their legs and feet are red, too.

Quails belong to the family Phasianidae. The common bobwhite is Colinus virginianus; Gambel's quail, C. gambelii; the California quail, Callipepla californica; the common European quail, Coturnix coturnix (or communis ).