Birds – Migratory Quail

With the widely known Migratory Quail (Coturnix coturnix) we must close our account of this interesting group, although nearly every member is really worthy of extended mention. Hardly exceeding seven inches in length, this handsome little Quail is sandy-brown above variegated with black and straw color, the head “mottled with black and reddish brown, with three longitudinal, yellowish streaks,” the chin and throat white with an anchor-shaped patch of black down the middle, and the lower parts reddish brown. As its name indicates, it is strictly migratory, spending the summer months or from March and April to September and October in Europe and north-ern Asia, and the remainder of the year in the Indian peninsula and South Africa. It is indeed remarkable, as Mr. Hudson says, that while in summer “he is a dweller on the ground, an earth lover, like his stay-at-home relation, the Partridge, yet in his wide wanderings he crosses seas, vast deserts, and the loftiest mountain chains, and by means of this migratory instinct has diffused himself over the three great continents.” Although quite widely diffused throughout Great Britain, they are nowhere abundant, and being monogamous, are spread in pairs in suitable locations, preferring rough grass country rather than cultivated land. Soon after their arrival in spring — a very few may remain over winter — the call of the male is heard, “a shrill, piping note of three syllables, supposed to resemble the words wet my lips or wet my feet, according to the hearer’s fancy.” They breed on the ground, making a very slight nest with little or no lining, and lay from nine to fifteen eggs which are creamy white or buff, blotched and spotted with rich brown; one or often two broods are reared each season. After the nesting season is over they lay aside their exclusiveness and congregate in vast flocks for the migration, and in portions of their winter range, notably in India, they occur in numbers almost incredible. Thus Tickell says of them on an island in the Ganges : “I do not exaggerate when I say they are like locusts in number. Every step that brushed the covert sent off a number of them, so that I had to stand every now and then like a statue and employ my arms only, and that in a stealthy manner, for the purpose of loading and firing. A furtive scratch of the head, or a wipe of the heated brow, dismissed a whole ‘bevy’ into the next field.”

They are highly esteemed for food, and during the migrations, particularly in fall, they are netted by thousands for market. This species has on several occasions been introduced into the United States, but has not thus far been established, as it probably migrates out into the Atlantic and becomes lost.