Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Most folks find that the broad, black feathers sticking straight up from the head of the California Quail (Callipepla californica) lend it a somewhat comical appearance, and few forget their first view of this unique bird. Also possessed of beautiful white-rimmed, blue-gray feathers and a hardy constitution, this North American native is likely the world’s most commonly-kept quail.
The California Quail ranges along the Western edge of North America, from Oregon to Northwestern Mexico. It reaches 10 inches in length but, like all quails, appears larger due to its stocky build. Captive bred birds are readily available.
California Quails are strictly birds for spacious, outdoor aviaries. Despite their relatively small size, they are extremely active and also like to perch well off the ground at night. California Quails dwell in some quite hostile habitats in the wild, but captives are intolerant of cold, damp conditions (wild birds move to high, dry areas during rainy weather). A warm, dry shelter is a must, even for those kept within their natural range.
The California Quail aviary should be heavily planted with tall grass clumps and shrubs. This will serve to calm nervous specimens, and insects attracted to the vegetation will keep them busy foraging all day long. An outside screen of evergreens is recommended, especially near roosting areas, as quails of all types are prone to “night frights” (at which time they may fly headlong into the aviary’s walls).
California Quails get along with finches, softbills and small parrots, but mated pairs will attack other quails during the breeding season.
Most quail keepers use a commercial quail or pheasant feed for their birds, while others prefer a mix of Dove Food and Canary Seed. Chopped kale, dandelion, romaine and other greens and native grasses should be offered each day, and grit must always be available.
Insects are taken frequently in the wild – live crickets, mealworms, waxworms and canned insects should be a regular part of the diet. Live plants will encourage insects to enter the aviary; the Zoo Med Bug Napper insect trap is an excellent (and interesting!) means of collecting live food for your quails.
You can read about this bird’s natural history on the website of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
This video shows a fine male California Quail calling in the wild.
In Part II of this article we’ll learn about breeding this prolific (as in “40 eggs per hen per season”!) bird and have a look at the closely related Gambel’s Quail.
Please write in with your questions and comments.
Thanks, until next time,
California Quail image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mila Zinkova/Mbz1
California Quail chick image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tony Wills