Quail are small, plump game birds whose natural habitats are found across North America, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. They are also found wild in South America and Australasia, to a lesser extent. Several species of quail have been domesticated and raised for their meat and eggs. The three species commonly kept as pets are the Coturnix, the Button or Chinese Painted, and the California Valley Quail. Several other varieties are hunted in the wild. It is very difficult for quail to remain in flight for very long distances due to their short bodies and wings. For this reason, they are most often seen foraging on the ground. When hunted, they are “flushed” into short flight by game dogs. Bird watchers can readily identify the various species of quail from their plumage, especially by distinctive head feathers. Quails usually live in the wild for 2-3 years but in captivity in can be even six. Read on to find out more about how long quail live for, and what goes into making a quail’s life long and happy.
What’s the Average Lifespan of a Quail?
Quail live an average of two to three years in the wild, though some quail can live as long as five or six years in captivity. Every year, up to 80 percent of the wild quail population dies off. But the species’ large clutches and high reproduction levels help replace the population and neutralize the effect of its high mortality rate. Domesticated quails tend to live longest; however, if you are keeping a quail as a pet, you should not expect to have them with you for many years. It’s natural for quail to live short, productive lives.
Why Do Some Quail Live Longer Than Others?
Although many birds are remarkably long-lived, quail do not enjoy long lives. Like all birds, quail have a higher metabolic rate, body temperature, and higher resting glucose than that of mammals. These metabolic factors lead to their reduced life span. If you want to help your quail live longest, take your bird in for a yearly exam by your avian veterinarian, and provide it with a great diet, and optimum living conditions. Below we look at the best lifestyle for achieving long life in your quail.
Quail are omnivorous animals, with a predominantly vegetarian diet. In the wild, they survive on a high-protein diet of seeds, flowers, and insects. They spend most of their days scratching the earth, scavenging, and foraging. Wild quail particularly like to forage beneath shrubs or near foliage, because the leaves help shelter them from predators. Domesticated quail eat a diet of game bird feed, which you can supplement with leafy green kitchen scraps such as spinach, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, and kale. If your quail are free-range, they will mimic wild bird behavior and hunt out seeds and insects on their own. Many people find quail to be messy eaters. When you feed them game bird feed, you may want to try using an enclosed feeder to lessen food wastage. Add calcium such as crushed oysters and grit to their food, as these help with digestion. There is no set “feeding time” with quail—and so they should have access to food all day, every day. To keep your bird healthy, replace uneaten food every few days before it spoils. Free feeding is safe for quail because they will stop eating when their stomachs are full.
Wild quail live in woodland and forest areas. In their natural terrain, these birds move through the underbrush with surprising swiftness. They can reach speeds of up to 12 miles per hour if startled by a predator. Their domesticated cousins are extremely tolerant of people and are happy to make their homes in city parks, backyards, and barnyards across the world.
3. Living Conditions
As long as they are protected against strong winds and extreme temperatures, domesticated quail can live both indoors or outdoors. Captive quail thrive in small flocks and will not prosper in pairs or alone. Ideally, you should keep them in groups of four to five birds, so they can keep each other entertained. Quail can be kept as pets in small indoor spaces, such as rabbit coops, but beware of keeping too many in the same area. Make sure their space is ventilated and easy to clean. Since these birds love to forage, provide them with wood shavings, leaves, and other greenery to pick over. In the wild, quail are a little more solitary. Shade from various types of vegetation is attractive to them since it provides shelter from predators. Regardless of whether they are wild or domesticated, these birds need adequate shelter to roost, rest, nest, and to protect themselves from the weather.
Their size is typically greater than that of robins, but smaller than that of crows. Different species display a great deal of variation in appearance. Some are as small as four inches tall, but they can range up to 12 inches in height. They usually have small heads and short, broad wings as well as a long, square tail. Fully grown, a mature adult quail has a wingspan of up to 15 inches.
Females and males both have a topknot of feathers that protrudes forward; males have a longer and larger plume, which is darker in color and consists of several feathers. The quail’s coloration and arrangement of feathers on its underbelly can give it a scaly appearance. Upper breast feathers can often also be speckled. Typically, quail have the type of bill characteristic of seedeaters: short, stout, and slightly decurved.
6. Sex & Reproduction
Males compete for females during mating season in the spring. The lush plume on top of the male quail’s head helps him to attract a mate. Males with a full plume are generally preferred over those without. Several species, such as Gambel’s quail, are monogamous, forming pair bonds, but others, like the California quail, form broods in which multiple males and females are present. After fertilization, the female lays six to 16 eggs. In their first year, hens can lay an average of 200 eggs. Incubation takes around 20 days, and both sexes care for the chicks after hatching. It is common for most quail chicks to be well-developed when they are born. They can soon leave the nest and forage with their parents. Able to fly within two weeks, they are mostly completely independent after a month. Quail reach adult maturity around six weeks after hatching. Depending on how well they have been cared for, they can begin reproducing at between 50 and 60 days old.
Quail eggs are small, pale cream to mid-brown in color, and often speckled all over with brown dots. These eggs are delicious and often feature on the menus of high-priced restaurants. Quail are productive layers. Between two and eight months, they are at their most fertile, laying one egg a day. At nine months and beyond, their fertility declines, although the average hen might still lay up to 200 eggs annually. You can eat their yummy eggs, sell them, or use them as a protein source for another pet, such as a dog or cat.
Despite their size difference, quail are game birds in the same family as pheasants. If you decide to purchase quail, an online search should reveal breeders that offer quail for breeding, eating, or as pets in your area. Many hatcheries will be happy to ship either fertilized eggs or chicks directly to you. If you are breeding your own quail, make sure to introduce new genetic lineages every couple of generations. Inbred quail will be sickly and difficult to raise.
Some pet stores are now carrying Button Quail. Make sure you understand how your quail have been raised, where they come from, and what they were fed before you purchase them. Asking these questions helps promote humane raising practices. Quail are easy to rear in captivity. Though they are susceptible to common poultry diseases, they are more resilient and hardy than many other types of birds.
Wild quail have many predators to worry about. Cats, snakes, raccoons, and other birds such as owls and hawks hunt quail for food. Humans are an additional threat—quail hunting is popular in countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland, and New Zealand, and in the southeastern United States. However, most of the quail meat and quail eggs consumed by humans comes from commercial farms.
Some quail will suddenly take off at speeds up to 40 mph when startled. Others might remain motionless in the face of danger. Several species have bony heel spurs that they use to protect themselves from predators. Japanese Quail, which are raised for their meat and eggs, are territorial in captivity. If they are overcrowded, they may resort to pecking or cannibalism.
These birds like to take dust baths by burrowing two to three inches deep into loose soil or sand, wriggling around, and flapping their wings. Both wild and domesticated adult quail will use this method to keep themselves free of insects.
The 4 Life Stages of a Quail
1. Egg & Embryonic Stage
Eggs are laid by female birds in clutches ranging in number from six to 16. Both parents incubate their eggs for around 20 days until the embryo inside develops into a chick that is ready to hatch. It may take a chick up to a day to break through its eggshell. To help them hatch, most quail have a small bump near the tip of their beak called an egg tooth.
2. Hatchling Stage
A hatchling is a young quail that has just emerged from the egg. It cannot fully care for itself immediately. However, quail are precocial birds, so they are relatively mature at birth. As a result, they can feed themselves and leave the nest much sooner than many other types of bird.
3. Juvenile Stage
Juveniles are going through that awkward teenage phase. They’ve left the nest and are getting their own wings. When they’re first plumaged, they’ll look similar to adult birds, but duller and with less defined markings. In the field it’s hard to tell which birds are young, and this phase only lasts a couple of weeks in the life cycle of a quail.
4. Adult Stage
Adult birds are sexually mature quail which are able to reproduce. They will now be displaying full adult plumage. Adulthood may be short-lived for some birds: Bobwhites, for example, only have a 20 percent survival rate past their first year.
How To Tell Your Quail’s Age
As quail are precocial and live such a short life, it is not easy to tell their age. However, generally, young birds look sleeker and more youthful than older ones. If your bird has darkened legs, flaky skin, and overgrown toenails, it may be quite old. Elderly birds rest often and are not motivated to move around much.
Conclusion: Quail Lifespan
If you have experience with chickens and would like to add another species to your home flock, quail are a delightful choice. Besides making wonderful pets, quail can also provide delicious eggs and meat. Their good health and hardiness make them easy to care for and they can live up to three years. Birds like these have such a fast metabolism to support their small bodies that they need constant access to food. The most important part of keeping your quail healthy is providing them with the right diet in sufficient quantities.
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay