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Many people with an aviary, be it an outside wooden one or a large cage style, often choose to keep quail in them. Most common is the Chinese Painted Quail, which are the smallest, but the Japanese and Californian Quail are also widely bred and sold in this country.
Quails are from the family Phasianidae that also contains pheasants, partridges and chickens so are often referred to as poultry. The family also includes birds such as the grouse, guineafowl and turkeys.
The Chinese Painted Quail (CPQ) is around 4-5inches in length and originated from south-east Asia and Australia. They can be visually sexed in the wild type as the male has distinctive white and black facial markings and a grey breast where the hen is mostly shades of brown. There are numerous colour variations bred in captivity including brown males, grey-white birds and a brownish shade which is classed as lavender, to name a few.
CPQ are ideal in an aviary because they are like little bird vacuum cleaners. They have no particular food requirements and instead forage on the ground for the food that the other birds spill. They are general non-aggressive to other birds and I have known them even shelter fledglings of other species which cannot fly. They do prefer to have somewhere to shelter at night and to build their nests but are very adaptable little birds.
As a general rule, they make a constant low chirp between themselves which can escalate into louder calling by the male bird. He will stand on his tip-toes and shout out loudly when the hen is coming ready to breed.
Mating looks a bit violence as the male grabs the feathers on the back of the female’s head to mount her. Hens will often have bald patches in this area but this is normal. Unfortunately, due to the large number of these birds being born and raised in incubators, many quail have lost the knack of incubating and raising their young. Egg laying can be prolific and they will incubate sometimes but depending on their background, young may not be produced. Eggs can be collected within two weeks of laying if you want to use an incubator and raise young, who are adorable little bundles of fluff not unlike chicken chicks. They will need heat after hatching from a red heat lamp, which can gradually be moved further away from them to acclimatise them to going outside.
Japanese Quail (Coturnix japonica) are larger in size at around 6inches and a lot louder in their calls. These birds also come from south-east Asia and can be sexed by the throat markings that will be richer on the male bird. Being larger, they need a larger space to live in and a ratio of one male to several females avoids arguments. Otherwise, they live with other birds with little problems.
Like their smaller cousins, they eat whatever they come across as they forage around on the floor of their aviary. They need some shelter and will enjoying planted areas but will make do with most enclosures, as long as they are large enough.
There are similar problems with the breeding of the Japanese Quail as with the Chinese Painted Quail, in that due to large numbers being bred in incubators, many of the adult birds don’t know how to raise young. If they do manage, the young are mobile, learn to feed almost instantly similarly to chickens, and are independent in about four week.
Harlequin Quail (Coturnix delegorguei) originate from south and east Africa and are slightly larger than the Japanese at 6-7inches. The males can be sexed by their throat mask which is absent on the female birds.
Harlequin will also live in a mixed aviary provided it is large enough and a ratio of more females than males is also advisable. They are slightly more susceptible to extreme cold than their cousins are so some heating should be available to maintain temperature slightly in the worst of winter.
These quail nest in a hole in the ground but the hen can sometimes be careless with her eggs. If you find them spread around the floor of the aviary, simply add them to the nest space or make a one and she may often take to it. However, they suffer similar problems with breeding due to incubation rearing.
The California Quail (Lophortyx californicus) is the largest of the species here at 10inches. The males are very attractive with black and white throat markings and a long, black crest while the female has a smaller, brown one. They live well with others but are more susceptible to moisture levels so will need to be able to shelter from the rain.
They will eat whatever is in their enclosure though specialist quail mixes can be obtained. They will also take green food and insects when offered as well as a supply of grit.
These quail are better at flying than their cousins are and often roost at night on a branch off the floor. This can sometimes cause problems with other smaller birds so sometimes are considered best not kept with small finches or highly-strung species.
Incubation rearing has had the same effect on these species as other quail but if they do lay and incubate their eggs, 20 in a clutch are not uncommon. They chicks hatch around 18-23 days later and can pick up food immediately.
A species of quail can be a useful helper in an aviary, as they will help clear up mess on the floor. They are little characters who have their own personalities like any other species of birds and are very adaptable – I have one that is blind but manages to mount the hen and another with one foot. They can get underfoot a little, so caution is needed in a walk-in aviary but otherwise, they can be funny and interesting little avian helpers.
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