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Gambel quail

I have SO much going on right now, that I don’t have time to waste. But wasting time is exactly what I did for nearly two full days earlier this week. You see, I have a major flaw in my personality. I’ve been aware of the issue since I was very young, and I’ve come to accept it. The thing with this characteristic is that you never know when it will strike. It comes on suddenly and unexpectedly.  The problem is that I am easily obsessed. Any random thing can catch my attention and that is all I will focus on for…. well, I never know for how long. Until it ends, goes away, or I just can’t take it anymore. The story, along with a slight few of the 180+ pictures I took of the event… the event being my most recent obsession, begins here…

On Monday, I arrived home from my daily 5-mile morning walk at 6:15 AM and was standing at the kitchen sink, looking out the window into the backyard. Movement in a large potted plant between the sunken kitchen and the pool caught my eye.

I grabbed my camera and went outside to investigate and this is what I found.  Look closely and you’ll count at least five baby quail.

I heard loud squawking and general unhappiness above me. Looking up, I saw Papa quail sitting on the trellis that covers the kitchen. I hurriedly snapped the picture of the babies and went back inside.

I watched as Papa moved from the trellis to the pool waterfall to the back of one of the patio chairs, guarding the pot, until sundown.

Meanwhile, Mama quail hopped in and out of the pot every 10 to 20 minutes gathering food and returning to the nest. (Quail don’t actually build a nest, they just make a small indentation in dirt or sand and lay their eggs.)

I went online to see what they eat and learned they eat insects and grain. I couldn’t help with the insects but I tossed out some uncooked quinoa, barley, and pearl couscous. Except for the necessary bathroom breaks, I didn’t leave my kitchen/breakfast room windows until the sun went down. That was my Monday.

On Tuesday, things were progressing rapidly. I’d researched and learned that quail generally abandon their nest within hours of their eggs hatching. And that, “Gambel quail babies are precocial, meaning they pop from the egg covered with down, fully formed, and ready to run and follow their parents, but they are only an inch tall and cannot fly for about three weeks.  As soon as the down dries, within hours of hatching, they are capable of finding their own food.”  That is unless they are hatched in a pot that is more than 2 feet above the ground. So beginning at sunrise, papa was perched in his usual places and mama hopped in and out of that pot every minute, trying to teach and encourage the chicks to do the same… well hop out, not back in, of course! The bravest of the chicks would make the effort.  I’d see their tiny heads popping up as they kept trying to hop up from the dirt to the ledge, a good 5-inch high jump. Eventually, they were making it.

Then they would look down at their mama on the ground and hop back into the dirt. This went on for hours… and I obsessively watched, from 6 AM to 12:15 PM, when the first brave baby soul made the leap and landed safely on the cool deck next to his waiting and anxious mama.

Oh, but I neglected to mention the big trauma drama in the middle of all that.  As the chicks were finally making it to the ledge, I spotted the imminent danger. THE POOL!  These silly parents had not noticed that the pot was within inches of a huge body of water. Quail do not swim, at least not 1-day old quail. The little guys were not only hopping up on the ledge above where their mama was waiting and calling to them, but also on the opposite side of where she was, with the pool just below. I was panicked, I hated to go out and disturb and frighten them, but if one of them fell in the pool, I would have dived into the cold water to rescue it and that would have caused a great disturbance to all involved. Here is what I quickly rigged up, with Marissa’s help. Everyone from the chicks to their parents, to us humans was extremely upset during the installation, but as you can see, it worked well, and no chicks fell in the pool!

All was looking well, by 4:45 a fifth chick had made the fateful jump safely and I thought we were doing well, then it happened… the parents, with their five, abandoned the nest. I guess they figured that they’d given the operation a day and a half, they had to cut their losses and get out of there before predators picked off the ones that were their best bets. Within minutes, they just left the yard.  Now I was panicking.  I went online to see if they’d be back, and found that, no they would not. I found this article and called Jeani Garrett, the director of Arizona Covey, and left a message.  I had what I thought to be about 6 abandoned chicks in a pot in my backyard, what should I do?  I waited and guarded the pot, chasing off a couple of grackles in the meantime. She called back and told me to gather up the chicks, place them in a box and bring them to her ASAP.  I didn’t have a good box, so I used one of my stockpots.  If you didn’t already know my intention, that would have seemed cruel! Turns out there were 9 chicks abandoned.

They were so cute and chirped nervously all the way on their quick car ride.  They are now safe and being raised by an expert until they are 3 months old when they will be released to live on their own. I hope the other 5 fare as well with their brave parents. And now that I have this post up, I can go on with my life and try to play catch-up!

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1 Grandma H. { 04.21.11 at 11:42 AM }

What an interesting story! I wish I’d been there to see them, but I doubt it would have kept my interest for 2 days! You are something–and Marissa, too. Obviously quails are a lot more likeable to you than pigeons. xoxoxoxo

2 Dagmar { 04.21.11 at 1:04 PM }

Love this story! I too would have watched for two days… How often do you see a nest of baby quails in your backyard? Not here in Buffalo NY. I did have doves a few years in a row lay their eggs outside my bedroom window, which was a neat experience to watch the babies hatch and then grow. Anyway, wishing you and your family a great Easter weekend!

3 barbara fenzl { 04.21.11 at 2:32 PM }

Wow, I found that fascinating – and you told it so well! Thanks for sharing –


4 Bonnie F. { 04.21.11 at 7:27 PM }

You are not alone!! I have been known to stand at my kitchen sink for great lengths of time, watching lizards on the window eat bugs. One summer I had 12 lizards to watch!!
Isn’t the desert great!?!

5 Sharon { 04.22.11 at 7:06 AM }

Very cool Linda!

6 Patti Pullen { 04.22.11 at 7:39 AM }

I was just sitting outside this morning with my coffee watching the quail families in our backyard. I came in and read your story…..LOVE IT!! Little quail families just make me smile. xxoo patti

7 Linda Hopkins { 04.22.11 at 8:15 AM }

Dear Patti, Sharon, Bonnie, Barb, Dagmar, and Mom, Thank you so much for all your lovely comments. Dagmar, this is the first time I’ve seen a quail nest, although it is a common springtime sight in Arizona to see the little quail following after their mother, with their father bringing up the rear. It would be a hard-hearted person to not have their heart just melt at the sight! Happy Easter to all you and all your families!

8 Lisa { 04.22.11 at 12:53 PM }

Love this!

9 Peggy M { 04.23.11 at 8:03 AM }

What a great story, Linda. And the pictures were beautiful too. You should write a book… xoxo

10 Chef Gwen { 04.26.11 at 3:15 PM }

You are a saint! I won’t tell you what I do to quail eggs in my backyard… they attract snakes and I have two puppies, and well, I just can’t have quail eggs in my backyard. But I loved this story and can picture you obsessing over the safety of each and every chick. You’re a saint.

11 sloane { 04.26.11 at 4:03 PM }

Love this story! I would have had to call in sick to work to watch the events take place!

12 Linda Hopkins { 04.26.11 at 4:04 PM }

Gwen, I understand. I learned that that is why the parents get those chicks out of the next ASAP, because once the eggs hatch, the smell quickly attracts snakes and other prey. Gotta keep those puppies safe!

13 Dennie { 05.13.11 at 2:57 PM }

I was googling gambel’s quail because I have a mom nesting in a pot, like yours, with 9 eggs, and I too am worried she will abandon before they all get out! That is when I found your story–Thanks for the tips–I am going to call my local re-hab folks in Tucson ahead of the event! I can see what’s happening right out of my window without disturbing them.

14 Linda Hopkins { 05.14.11 at 7:29 AM }

Hi Dennie, glad I could help and good luck with the little cuties! Let me know how it all turns out. 🙂

15 Worried { 05.28.12 at 10:55 AM }

I found your article while looking for what I should do with 4 eggs that have been left behind. I had been watching the Momma Bobwhite for the past few days, only to notice on Sunday that she has disappeared. One of the eggs has been moved out of nest and the other three are still there. I have been obsessing about what to do now. I fear the Momma was killed by our neighbor’s cat. I feel so sad; however, we don’t have anyone like you did to call for help. We are out in the country where I think most folks would just say eat them. Ugh!

16 Linda Hopkins { 05.28.12 at 2:11 PM }

Dear Worried, so sorry to hear that. 🙁 I guess nature finds its way, but I feel your pain!

17 Sandi Johnson { 05.16.13 at 4:57 PM }

Loved your story. We are dealing with the same exact thing with mamma quail sitting on 14 eggs in a very large pot on our patio and they are due to hatch within days. We pray she doesn’t abandon any of the chicks because here in Lake Havasu, we would not know who to contact.

18 Linda Hopkins { 05.16.13 at 5:19 PM }

Sandi, maybe you could sneak out and place a ramp of some sort from the pot to the ground. Or maybe a “slide” out of a piece of smooth fabric leading down to a “soft landing” I’d try to get something rigged up before the eggs hatch. Just a thought. 🙂

19 Sandi { 05.17.13 at 9:42 AM }

Linda, thank you so much for your great suggestion. We had thought about doing that early on but were afraid it might scare the mamma away, but after reading your story about the little abandoned chicks, we would like to try and avoid that from happening so, we are going to try and rig some sort of ramp and place it when she’s out feeding today. Hopefully, the ramp won’t scare her away. Thank you again.

20 Linda Hopkins { 05.17.13 at 12:03 PM }

Sandi, Best of Luck! Be sure and keep me posted. I’ll be thinking of you and your quail.

21 Marnie { 05.30.13 at 10:06 PM }

Linda – I love your story!! In fact, I live in AZ and found 6 abandoned quail this evening by my pool pump. No nest, they all scattered but thankfully we were able to get them in a basket and I immediately researched “abandoned quail”. I found your story and I called Jean at Arizona Covey Quail Rescue. I just brought them to Jean and they went right in the incubator 🙂 Thank you for paying it forward!

22 Linda Hopkins { 05.31.13 at 10:51 AM }

Hi Marnie, I’m so happy Jean was able to help. Such nice people! And thank you for your nice comment and happy ending.

23 Ma Ma { 06.05.16 at 7:27 PM }

I have this scenario now and we are at 21 days and the California
Quail eggs should be hatching any day; however the mama and papa
Have left the 13 eggs for the last two days. If they don’t return soon,
I will try to do exactly what you did. Nest is in clay pot rich with bugs
So I am hoping for a good ending..

24 Linda Hopkins { 06.06.16 at 9:06 AM }

Ma Ma, I am hoping for a happy ending for your eggs too! I had 16 eggs abandoned this year and my neighbor had 13 eggs left behind. I performed a “candling” on all 29 eggs and only two had begun to develop, the rest were clear… all 29 were “dead.” Sad, but I guess that’s why quail lay so many eggs in the first place.

25 Susan { 06.10.16 at 6:48 AM }

We have been watching a nest of 12 eggs since our gardener found it 24 days ago. Mom still sits on them but we are wondering when it will happen. By candling, do you hold the eggs over a candle in a dark room is see if they are developing? Some days several eggs were “kicked” out of the nest and then rolled back in. Very interesting to watch and we are very concerned also, trying to chase grackles away.

26 Linda Hopkins { 06.10.16 at 7:04 AM }

Hi Susan, from what I’ve read, it takes 21-24 for the parents to incubate the eggs. So it should be any day now! Give it a couple more days before you candle an egg. To do so, go into a interior windowless room. I do so in a bathroom and use my cell phone flashlight and hold the egg in front of the mirror, shining the light right up against the egg and look at the egg in the mirror…. you’ll see that it is either bright and clear or you will see a dark area. Clear – not good. Dark area = quail chick. Good luck and yes, keep those wretched grackles away… they are ruthless!

27 Susan { 06.10.16 at 7:14 AM }

Thanks, Linda. We are waiting like grandparents to be!!

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