1902 Encyclopedia > Quail


QUAIL (Old French Quaille, Mod. French Caille, Italian Quaglia, Low Latin Quaquila, Dutch Kwakkel, and Kwartel, German Wachtel, Danish Vagtel), a very well-known bird throughout almost all countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa, -- in modern ornithology the Coturnix communis or C. dactylisonans. This last epithet was given from the peculiar three syllabled call-note of the cock, which has been grotesquely rendered in several European languages, and in some parts of Great Britain the species is popularly known by the nickname of "Wet-my-lips" or "Wet-my-feet." The Quail varies somewhat color, and the variation is rather individual than attributable to local causes; but generally the plumage may be described as reddish-brown above, almost each feather being transversely patched with dark brown interrupted by a longitudinal stripe of light buff; the head is dark brown above, with three longitudinal streaks of ochreous-white; the sides of the breast and flanks are reddish-brown, distinctly stripped with ochreous-white; the rest of the lower parts are pale buff, clouded with a darker shade, and passing into white on the belly. The cock, besides being generally brighter in tint, not unfrequently has the chin and a double-throat band of reddish or blackish-brown, which marks are wanting in the hen, whose breast is usually spotted. Quails breed on the ground, as all gallinaceous birds commonly do, and lay from nine to fifteen eggs of a yellowish-white, blotched and spotted with dark brown. Though essentially migratory by nature, not a few Quails pass the winter in the northern hemisphere and evening Britain, and many more in southern Europe. In March and April they cross the Mediterranean from the south on the way to their breeding homes in large bands, but these are said to as nothing compared with the enormous flights that emigrate from Europe towards the end of September. During both migrations immense numbers are netted for the market, since they are almost universally esteemed as delicate meat. On capture they are placed in long narrow and low cages, darkened to prevent the prisoners from fighting, and, though they are often so much crowded as to be hardly able to stir, the loss by death that ensues is but trifling. Food, usually millet or hempseed, and water are supplied in throughs hung in front, and thus these little birds are transported by tens of thousands from the shores of the Mediterranean for consumption in the most opulent and populous cities of Europe. The flesh of Quails caught in spring commonly proves dry and indifferent, but that of those taken in autumn, especially when they have been kept long enough to grow fat, as they quickly do, is excellent. In no part of the British Islands at present do Quails exist in sufficient numbers to be the especial object of sport, though there are many places in which a few, and in some seasons more than a few, yearly fall to the gun. When made to take wing, which is not always easily done, they rise with great speed, but on such occasions they seldom fly far, and no one seeing them only thus would be inclined to credit them with the power of extensive migration that they possess, though this is often overtaxed, and the birds in their transmarine voyages, frequently drop exhausted into the sea or on any vessel that may be in their way. In old days they were taken in England in a net, attracted thereto by means of Quail-call,-a simple instrument, the use of which is now wholly neglected, -on which their notes are easily imitated.

Five or six other species of the restricted genus Coturnix are now recognized; but the subject of the preceding remarks is generally admitted to be that intended by the author of the book of Exodus (xvi. 13) as having supplied food to the Israelites in the wilderness, though a few ornithological writers have thought that bird to have been a SAND-GROUSE (q.v.). In South Africa and India allied species, C. delegorguii and C. coromandelica, the latter known as the rain-Quail, respectively occur, as well as the commoner one, which in Australia and Tasmania is wholly replaced by C. pectoralis, the Stubble-Quail of the colonists. In New Zealand another species, C. novae-zelandiae, was formerly very abundant in some district, but is considered to have been nearly if not quite extirpated within the last twenty years by bush-fires. Some fifteen or perhaps more species of Quails, inhabiting the Indian and Australian Regions, have been separated, perhaps unnecessarily, to form the genera Synoecus, Perdiculla, Excalphatoria, and so forth; but they call for no particular remark.

America has some fifty or sixty species of birds which are commonly deemed Quails, though by some authors placed in a distinct Family or Sub-family Odontophorinae. The best known is the Virginian Quail, or Colin, as it is frequently called-that being according to Hernandez, its old Mexican name. It is the Ortyx virginianus of modern ornithology, and has a wide distribution in North America, in some parts of which it is known as the "Partridge," as well as by the nickname of "Bob-White," aptly bestowed upon it from the call-note of the cock. Many attempts have been made to introduce this bird to England (as indeed similar trials have been made in the United States with Quails from Europe); but though it has been turned out by hundreds, and has been frequently known to breed after liberation, its number rapidly diminish until it wholly disaooears. The beautiful tufted Quail of California, Lophortyx californica, has also been tried in Europe without success. All these American Quails or Colins seem to have the habit of perching on trees, which none of the Old-World forms posses.

Interesting from many points of view as is the group of Birds last mentioned, there is another which, containing a score of species (or perhaps more) often termed Quails or Button Quails, is of still greater importance in the eyes of the systematist. This is that comprehended by the genus Turnix, or Hemipodius of some authors, the anatomical structure of which removes it far from the genera Coturnix, Ortyx, and their allies, and even from any of the normal Gallinae. Prof. Huxley, as already stated (ORNITHOLOGY, vol. xviii. P. 36), would regard it as the representative of a generalized stock from which the Charadriomorphae and Alectoromorphae, to say nothing of other groups, have sprung. Want of space prevents our here dwelling upon these curious birds. One species, T. sylvatica, inhabits Barbary and southern Spain, and under the name of Andalucian Hemipode has been included (though on evidence not wholly satisfactory) among British Birds as a reputed straggler. The rest are natives of various parts of the Ethiopian, Indian, and Australian Regions. It is characteristic of the genus Turnix to want the hind toe; but the African Ortyxelus and the Australian Pedionomus which have been referred to its neighborhood have four toes and each foot, and, since nothing is known of the anatomy or habits of the first and but little of those of the second, their position must at present be considered doubtful. ( A.N.)

The above article was written by: Alfred Newton, M.A., F.R.S.; Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, University of Cambridge; late Chairman of Brit. Assoc. Migration of Birds Committee; President of the Cambridge Philosophical Society; author of Ornithology of Iceland and A Dictionary of Birds; edited The Ibis, 1865-70 and The Zoological Record, 1870-72.

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