Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Wed, Dec. 11

Quail nesting activity already underway

Each year, I start hearing about baby quail sightings around the second week of May. This means female quail are laying eggs right now that will be hatching the first part of May, as the incubation period for quail eggs is 21 days ­ the same as it is for chickens.

One reason for the long incubation period is the fact that baby quail emerge from the egg fully developed. Within just a few hours of hatching, they are capable of running fast enough to keep up with their parents and are capable of feeding themselves. This level of development is referred to as precocial, from the root word precocious.

Female quail will lay one egg per day until they have finished laying the total number of eggs for that clutch. Clutch size for quail is highly variable, but on the low end, it is about 12 eggs, and there are extreme cases where they will have over 20 eggs in a single clutch. In years where rainfall has been plentiful, clutch size tends to be larger and in dry years, clutch size tends to be smaller.

The onset of incubation is after the last egg has been laid. If a quail lays 18 eggs in one clutch, the first egg was laid 18 days earlier than the last egg. As each egg is laid it will remain in the nest in a dormant state until the onset of incubation. At that time, all of the eggs are warmed together for the next 21 days and they will all hatch within a few hours of one another even though the eggs may have been laid as far as 18 days apart. Isn't Mother Nature amazing?

Using my example of a clutch size of 18 eggs, which will hatch after 21 days of incubation, to have baby quail by the second week of May, the mother quail would start laying eggs around April 1. Now granted, some quail will have their broods in June, July or even as late as August.

Frequent nesting locations for quail are in dense vegetation, in brush piles, and in potted plants. The nest is usually no more then a shallow depression scraped into the soil.

Baby quail have a very high mortality rate ­ about 85 percent. It is not uncommon to start with a clutch of 16 birds, and a week later, when you see the same quail family, they might be down to 14 babies. A week or two later they might have 11 babies left, etc. Baby quail face a lot of risks, from drowning in birdbaths that are too deep, to scrub jays, roadrunners, and especially house cats.

On another note, Willow Lake continues to be a hot spot for rare bird sightings. Last week it was white pelicans, this week there were over 60 marbled godwits. As spring migration progresses, it is a good idea to go birding on a regular basis as the bird scene changes rapidly this time of year.

In the last week, we have received several reports of lazuli bunting sightings. Lazuli buntings are a migratory species, which passes through this area. They are a ground feeding bird, and prefer white-proso millet. They typically come in small flocks, and the males are frequently misidentified as being a Western bluebird. Males have blue on their head, back, tail and wings, with a rust colored breast, and a white belly. Females are drab and plain, with a faint wash of blue in the tail. Be on the lookout.

If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Prescott, AZ 86305; log onto www.JaysBirdBarn.com; or e-mail address Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.

Until next week, happy birding.

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