What’s more charming than a Gambel’s Quail? The male’s ringing call and the constant back and forth clucking of the family group is fabric of the desert. A somewhat comic and vulnerable image is belied by the bird’s regal attitude.
A quail family with twelve fledglings has been visiting our back yard to drink from a shallow saucer and to graze in the lawn. Quails eat greens, cacti fruit, seeds and insects. We watched the parents lead the baby quails to the water source (covered so they can’t fall in) and shepherd them around the lawn. The tiny chicks have one speed, a dead run. They nibbled grass and nabbed insects. Dad perched nearby, alert to danger. Occasionally mom ran at one of the chicks, and smothered it to the ground under her breast for a moment before allowing it to run again.
A female quail lays one egg a day over a period of 10 to 12 days. Only then does she begin to incubate her nest. This allows all of the eggs hatch on the same day. The family is immediately on the move. The precocial young are born covered with down and are able to run within minutes of hatching. It will be 10 days before they can fly enough to reach greater safety.
Gambel’s Quail practice population control. The birds only breed in wet winter years when there will be ample food for the parents and the chicks.