Quail Chicks

It’s that time of year when I have the pleasure of sharing the adorable new quail chicks born recently in our backyard. Summer in northern California in a lucky year when the little puffballs make their debut.

This past spring, pairs of quails were seen frequently throughout the day in our yard. Then around June we didn’t see them anymore. This might have been alarming if we had not known it was nesting time, when they disappear for about a month to raise a family.

Then, as expected, they appeared with their new family.

It is an absolute thrill when one day the little ones scurry into our midst.

They are difficult to capture on camera as they are extremely skittish.

Parents typically produce 12 to 16 eggs in a clutch, and often about half of those are quickly preyed on. Precocial out of necessity, chicks usually leave the nest within a day after hatching.

We have watched five chicks growing up in the past two weeks, and we keep our fingers crossed that they will all survive.

Below is the first time we saw them, taken on July 23. They’re probably about one week old here. They appeared for less than one minute.

The cotoneaster shrub you see them next to is where we think their nest was.

Twelve days later their black head stripes had matured into more recognizable quail markings. In this photo (below) you can see a small black patch on each of their crowns. In a few days this will develop into their plume, also known as a topknot.

There are many species who prey on quail eggs and chicks, so the nest is well hidden under a shrub.

Fox, coyote, raccoons and outdoor cats are a few of the predators. The American Bird Conservancy estimates outdoor cats kill “an estimated 2.4 billion birds a year.”

More info: American Bird Conservancy

Somewhere under this shrub is their nest.

We’re in a drought and have severe water restrictions, so there is no green grass this time of year. But there are plenty of seeds on the ground, which is what the chicks eat.

Mature quail are often seen pecking and scratching at the ground, but the chicks just peck until they learn how to scratch.

More info: California Quail allaboutbirds.org

Their camouflage is an important factor in survival. You can hardly make it out that there are five chicks in the photo below: three chicks on the left, two in the center, and both parents on the right.

Still staying close to the cotoneaster.

When the chicks are this young, one or both parents are invariably accompanying the young. One usually stands sentinel and watches for predators, while the other parent eats and tends to the young.

Here the mother is standing sentinel and all five chicks are underneath the bench.

This photo, below, shows a chick with dad. You can see the chick’s topknot has grown a little.

This photo, below, is two days after the above photo. The topknot is a bit bigger, breast feathers and markings are becoming more prominent. This chick is learning what its wings are about.

At first the chicks only pecked on flat ground, then eventually they started climbing onto the rocks. And then one day they got to the top of the rocks and their mother (below, right) was encouraging them to use their wings to fly into the shrub. They were reluctant but successful.

We have a bird bath that is one of the few sources of water around, and all the bird species rely on it for drinking and bathing. Every day I wondered why the parents weren’t showing the chicks the water source. Precious resource on these hot, dry days.

What I learned was they weren’t ready yet. But this week we’re getting closer to that.

A few days ago the adult male stood sentinel on the bird bath, encouraging his offspring to try this handy resource. The parents murmur in low, almost imperceptible tones to their young.

An acorn woodpecker, however, was thirsty too, and they seem to rule higher in the backyard hierarchy. The male quail quickly acquiesced.

Yesterday morning I heard the quail fly in–that distinctive whir of their wings–and briefly saw their shadows in my periphery. When I went to the window, my heart skipped a beat when I counted only three chicks.

But happy day, the other two joined up.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

70 thoughts on “Quail Chicks

  1. What a great post! Such diligent observations and incredible photos! Thanks for sharing. I feel as if I’ve been sitting in your backyard with you!

    • Many years can go by before we get an actual glimpse of them because they grow up fast and don’t show themselves much. It was fortunate we got to see them this year, and good that Athena was so diligent in capturing them throughout each day. A delight to share them with you, Belinda, thanks so much.

  2. Wow, so many beautiful photos! I love these birds and see them in the desert too. I have a birdbath in my backyard now and see all kinds of birds there. ❀️

    • It was great to hear about the Calif. quail in the NV desert, John. Despite their name, their range does cover all the western states, so I liked hearing about them in the LV area. Lovely that you host the birds in your birdbath, espec. on those sizzling hot days. Take care, John, thank you.

    • I enjoyed your comment, Wayne, smiling right now. I like your term “feathered debutante ball.” It was interesting to watch and will continue to be, as pretty soon the little ones will probably be venturing to the bathing station. Great to see you, Wayne, thank you.

  3. They’re so cute! I had an idea the chicks left the nest pretty early, but didn’t know they’re ready to go in a couple of days!!!
    I’m so happy to hear/read they are surviving and hope they continue to do so!!

  4. Dear Jet, dear Athena,
    thanks for your post. We suppose, Athena needed a lot of patients to take these pictures. So cute!
    Wishing you all the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Oh so nice to hear from you, Klaus. Yes, you’re right, it took Athena a lot of patience to take these photos. The chicks scurry and hide 90% of the time! Wonderful comment, thank you, and my best to the Fab Four.

  5. We used to have lots of quail breeding here about twenty years ago, but the area got built up and people let dogs and cats run loose and that was the end of our quail population. Such a shame. Good to see they are alive and doing well down your way, Jet.

    • Interesting story about the disappearing quail in your area, Anneli, sad too. And I really appreciate this input. Thanks very much, Anneli, your visits are always appreciated.

  6. Our quail families live in the overgrown azaleas and evergreens and we can hear them but so far only the adults appear. I am amazed you’re able to get pictures. They are shy!

    • I loved hearing about the quail families in your area, Jan, and am glad you know they’re present by the calls. Keep on the lookout this week, you may see some little ones buzzing on the outskirts. It was quite a feat for Athena to capture the photos, you’re right. Thanks so much.

  7. I’ve only seen quail once, at the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge, but I know they’re quite common in south Texas. I was lucky enough to see quite a group crossing a road, single file. Such fun! It was interesting to learn that these are precocial, like Black-necked stilts and Kildeer. It certainly makes sense — and seeing those fresh from the egg babies running around is pure delight. You and Athena are so lucky to have these babes; I hope the five do survive!

    • How wonderful that the beautiful Attwater Refuge afforded you some sights of the quail, Linda. I’m glad, too, that you saw a group crossing the road. They’re often single file, like you say, isn’t that funny? Really fun to share the new family with you here today, thank you Linda.

      • And now that I think about it, so many of the water birds, especially the ducks and geese, often have their young ‘uns following along in single file, too!

  8. A delightful post, Jet! Smiled almost all the way through this one, with your words and Athena’s photographs highlighting the growth of this little family. Tense at the end there, and happy to read there’s still a full family – as you often share, behind all the delight lurks so much danger in the wild world.
    Thanks for the Friday morning smiles!

    • It looks like we both had the pleasure of receiving Friday morning smiles from each other’s posts today, pc. How truly wonderful that is! It was fun sharing the events of the new quail family here today, and I learned a lot more by studying the photos in preparation of this post. And a joy, as always, to share it with you, pc. My best to you and Mrs. Pc.

  9. Adorable birds, I’ve always loved quail. Do you remember that Disney animated cartoon character whose topknot was always flopping in its face? Hilarious.
    I can imagine you worrying about the chicks being predated. It is such a challenging world out there in the wild. I hope they live long and prosper. πŸ™‚
    Excellent photos and post!

    • If you and I were in person, Eliza, I would hold up my hand in the Star Trek salute, for I, too, hope those quail live long and prosper. I don’t remember the Disney cartoon, but I looked it up…the “Crackpot Quail” they called him, and a funny little plume thing he had going on. Many smiles and big thanks.

  10. These are some wonderful photos and it must be pretty amazing to be able to watch the chicks in the early weeks of their development. How fun! Thanks for sharing this.

    • Yes, it has been fun to watch the chicks develop, endearing. And so delightful to witness it my backyard. Thanks Mark, it was lovely to see you today. I’ve been thinking about cicadas (and crickets) this weekend, thanks to you.

  11. Dear Jet… thank you so much for this visit with your quail with chicks. Ours seem to have gone missing (moved up the road to where there’s a bit less commotion). We’ve seen them up where the blackberry vines still reign. Places where they like to hang out. Where there aren’t power poles being replaced right in the middle of the territory. I sometimes wonder if we haven’t made this spot a bit more ‘civilized’ than it was when we got here? I miss our fluff balls. But your post did help!!! πŸ’ž

    • When I was composing this quail chicks post, Gunta, I thought of you and wondered about your quail. So I was happy to hear from you, get an update on your quail. And how wonderful I could share some chicks with you during this time when yours are hanging out at the blackberry patch. My warmest thanks and big smiles to you….

  12. I haven’t been lucky to see any California Quails while I’ve been in California several times.Interesting birds, Their plumage patterns quite unique. Nice post, my friend. πŸ™‚

    • I am very glad I could share the California quail with you here, H.J. And I agree with you, their plumage and markings are unique, so very beautiful. Thanks so very much for dropping by, my friend, much appreciated. And now it’s Sat. morning, I’m off to see your Red Gallery….

  13. This is all so fascinating! Watching the young of any species is an absorbing pastime. We used to see Gambel’s quail in our neighborhood, but I think the predators did away with them all many years ago.

  14. What adorable little puffballs! I especially love the pictures of the chick with its dad and the last one of the chick peeking through the fence. How lucky you are to have this quail couple raising their family in your back yard. And how kind of you to provide a birdbath during the drought. May they continue to be successful keeping their little ones safe from predators as they teach them how to survive.

    • Thank you, Barbara. I really love the photo of the chick and dad, too, the way the little one is mimicking its parent. And the one that is peeking through the fence was completely entertaining as it unfolded in real time. The quail chicks are so fun to watch and I, too, hope the success continues. Always a pleasure to have you stop by, Barbara, thank you.

    • I am absolutely delighted to hear you have lots of Calif. quail in Boise, Craig. I enjoyed your description–“a cluster of animated cotton balls.” Yes, I can imagine the magpies are a daunting force against them. A true pleasure to “see” you today, thanks.

  15. What a happy post, Jet. Fun to see these chicks and their proud parents. Enjoyed your narrative, as always. Great timing, too- I am at Sea Ranch and yesterday had a fun getting photos of a family of quail on the deck. The chicks were tiny- only 5 or 6 scurrying around while their parents kept watch. Such a great sighting. πŸ™‚

    • How very synchronistic that you are taking a breather at Sea Ranch this weekend, Jane, and watching the quail chicks when I post this. I was just thinking about SR this week, pondering a getaway. Thanks for your report on the quail chicks there, and have a great time. I foresee lots of beautiful seaside photos in a future post….

    • Thanks so much, Frank. Athena has been working the quail photos this week and last with true dedication. The quail come in at all times of the day, but because they tend to stay close to bushes and protection, they are almost always in the shade. With your expertise in photography and lighting, you can probably imagine the murmurings she has from behind the lens as they wander into the shadows. πŸ™‚ Cheers!

  16. Ya got to luv quails. I luv the sound their wings make when taking off. I always like the Acorn woodpecker. He really works hard.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the quail and acorn woodpecker, Bill, and I agree with you on both counts. The whirring sound of the quails in flight is so unique, and the acorn woodpeckers do work really hard, banging holes and stuffing acorns in the oaks. My warmest thanks for your visit.

  17. How adorable, Jet! Love the information too, thanks! I had just finished reading Gunta’s post and she ended hers with her quail family. Ya’ll have a bird I would love to see someday!! πŸ˜‰ Mighty handsome Acorn Woodpecker too, great captures of all by Athena!

    • It was fun hearing about the quail at Gunta’s site, Donna, thank you. And oh how I enjoy going to her Oregonian neck of the woods. With all the birds you have now photographed and chased and loved, I have no doubt you will one day soon see a Calif. quail. In the meantime, I’m glad Gunta and I could share this beauty with you. Warm thanks for your visit and comment.

  18. How adorable! Never experienced quail chicks before so that was a treat. The parents certainly have a hard task getting as many of them through the early stages as possible. Also gave me a shot of the Acorn WP as encouragement – still haven’t checked that one off my list yet! Great post..

  19. Great post, Jet. You really captured the life of quail chicks growing up in both words and photos. I can hear the moms and dads murmuring to their chicks. And I can also hear the distinctive call that sends the chicks into hiding and freezing! Thanks. –Curt

    • Thank you, Curt, for your kind words. Clearly you know the Calif. quail well after living out west for so long, and it’s great fun to share them with you this week. I hope all is going well for you and your wife. Many thanks.

    • You nailed it, Sylvia, it’s a really special treat to have the quail come visit us every day. I keep the water in the bird bath especially nice for them and the acorn woodpeckers. My warmest thanks to you for your visits.

  20. We have quail visit our backyard too. It is always a thrill for me to see their fuzzy babies scurry about. I counted 12 one day but it looked like it was more than one family. I enjoyed your photos and article very much. πŸ˜ƒ

    • Isn’t it so much fun to watch those little quail, Jill? I am happy you have had that pleasure in your backyard, too. Often quail coveys travel together, for group protection, especially when they have so many vulnerable young ones; so I think you’re probably right in that it is more than one family in your yard. Great fun sharing quail chick stories, Jill, thanks so much for your visit.

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