Quail are common throughout the United States and are popular birds for hunting. They nest on the ground, often under thick vegetation for protection. Although they can fly, they spend the majority of their time on land, which makes them easy prey for many predators. Chicks especially are at risk, which is one reason quail hens lay a large brood of eggs to make sure some survive to adulthood.
Quail pairs work together to build ground nests of leaves, grasses and twigs. The nests tend to be large because of the number of eggs they must accommodate. Female quail can lay up to 16 eggs, but more often they lay 12 to 13 eggs. Quail, especially chicks, have a high mortality rate, with only 5 to 30 percent growing into adults. After about three weeks, the eggs hatch into chicks. These chicks are instantly mobile and able to leave the nest. This is a necessity to get them away from the scent of freshly hatched eggs, which can draw predators, such as foxes, snakes and fire ants.
Quail chicks are considered precocial, which means they can move around without their parents' assistance immediately after hatching. They typically follow in a line behind their parents as they search for a safe place to rest and find food. Their short legs don't let them run as fast as their parents can, leaving them more susceptible to predation, especially during their first 30 days of life. By the time they are 11 days old, most chicks can fly at least short distances, which helps them escape when necessary.
Adult quail forage for seeds, grains and insects. Growing chicks need at least 28 percent of their diets to come from protein, which means they must rely heavily on insects. Chicks watch their parents to learn about hunting. Those who excel in snagging insects are able to meet their protein requirements, which helps them grow into adults. Chicks who aren't as skilled at hunting are more likely to grow more slowly and lose energy faster, meaning they can't escape predators as well.
Time to Maturity
Quail chicks are juveniles, close to their adult size, by the time they are 30 days old. They still have some filling out to do, but they are self-sufficient by this age and don't need much parental guidance. Family groups tend to start breaking up about this time, with each quail seeking a covey group to spend the winter with; coveys help the quail survive the cold season as they share body heat and work together to avoid predators. It takes about 175 days for a quail to reach full sexual maturity, which means he must wait until the spring after he's born to start seeking a mate and having chicks of his own.
- University of Florida Wildlife Ecology and Conservation: Quail Facts
- Animal Planet: Quail
- Animal Diversity Web: Common Quail
- Cornell University Lab of Ornithology: California Quail
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division: Bobwhite Quail Fact Sheet
- Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville: Quail Biologist Debunks Some Long-Standing Bobwhite Myths
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images