If you’re looking for an interesting bird for your homestead, the quail is a great contender. Twenty different types of quail live in the wild, while there are no fewer than 70 different domestic strains. And if you’re looking to discover some of the best quail breeds, we’ve got you covered!
We’re going to look at the different classes of quail that exist. And we’ll look at individual breeds and what they have to offer.
So if you’re ready to find out more, read on!
Two kinds of quail
Quail are grouped into two broad categories: Old World and New World.
Old World quail
Old World quail are a sub-group of the pheasant family Phasianidae. The sub-group is called Cuturnicini, and as well as Old World quail it includes birds called snowcocks and African spurfowl.
Old World quail are small, plump birds that dwell on the ground. They mostly eat seeds but will also munch on insects and other small critters. Some can fly for long distances, including migrating in autumn and spring.
But those who enjoy eating quail should beware! Some species can eat poisonous berries without appearing to have any ill effects. That’s because the poison is stored in their fat – passing on the pain to whoever consumes them.
New World quail
New World quail are so named because they’re similar in habits and appearance to Old World quail. But they come from a different family – Odontophoridae.
They’re found as far north as Canada and as far south as Southern Brazil. Two different species, the bobwhite and the California, have also been successfully introduced in New Zealand. And two African species, Nahan’s partridge and the stone partridge, are thought to belong to the same family.
They’re characterized by strong, thick legs which don’t have spurs. They tend not to be such good fliers as their Old World cousins, preferring to walk. But they can fly fast over short distances if faced with danger.
And like Old World quails, they live and feed on the ground. They will eat seeds, insects, vegetation, and roots.
Breeds of quail
1. Coturnix quail
The coturnix isn’t a breed but a genus of quail. It actually comprises at least five different species, including the brown quail, king quail and blue quail. (We’ll look separately at the blue quail later.)
They live in pairs and form small groups to migrate. They feed on the ground, and spend most of their time foraging for grubs and seeds.
They’re typically found in areas with dense vegetation, including grasslands, cereal fields, and bushy riverbanks. And their main predators are hawks.
Coturnix quail are highly popular as homestead birds, kept for eggs, meat and hunting. They have a calm temperament and are considered easy to rear.
2. Bobwhite quail
The bobwhite quail is also known as the Northern bobwhite or Virginia quail. It’s native to the USA, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. And it’s since spread to the Caribbean and parts of Europe and Asia.
It’s a type of New World quail, and it gets its name from its distinctive whistling call. It’s by far the most populous quail species in North America. The chances are, if you see a quail, it’s a bobwhite.
In recent years, however, destruction of its habitat has seen the wild population decline drastically. It’s estimated that numbers in eastern North America dropped by about 85% between 1966 and 2014.
There are 20 different subspecies, many of which are hunted as gamebirds. One subspecies, the Masked bobwhite, is now sadly endangered. And one, the Key West bobwhite, is already extinct.
Bobwhites may be kept in open or planted aviaries. Parents with chicks will roost at ground level and in a circular formation. Cocks call in the early morning and late afternoon. They’re not particularly loud, but the sound carries. So this breed may not be the best choice if you have prickly neighbors!
They’ll do well with a commercial small seed feed mix supplemented with greenfeed. Live insects aren’t strictly necessary, but will be a very welcome treat.
If you’re hoping to breed from them, your quail will need plenty of protein-rich food. And laying hens will need extra calcium too.
3. King quail
The King quail goes by a number of different names: the Asian blue quail, blue-breasted quail, or Chinese painted quail. Confusingly, some people also refer to it as the button quail – although buttonquails are actually a separate family of birds entirely.
Despite the blue monikers, males can be found in a range of different colors. As well as blue, there are brown, green, silver, maroon, and almost-black birds. Females have almost the same range of colors – but there are no blue female King quails.
Whatever the color of their plumage, both sexes have strong feet, allowing them dwell on the ground.
Males will fight to breed with a female, who will then lay a clutch of between five and thirteen eggs. The most successful clutches tend to number six to eight eggs. The small eggs range in color from pale brown to dark olive with black speckles.
The hen will usually go broody shortly after laying, and chicks hatch in around sixteen days.
They’re quite hardy birds, and will live happily alongside other species. They’re often housed in planted aviaries in either pairs or quartets.
Hens will look after the chicks until they’re about four weeks old. At that point, it’s best to move the young birds to a separate aviary.
4. California quail
The California quail is the state bird of California – and you won’t miss it! Both males and females have a striking crest of six feathers, which droops forward from their heads. In males, the crest is black, while in females it’s brown.
The coloring of males and females differs in other respects too. Males have a black face, dark brown cap, light brown underside, and gray-blue breast. Females and younger birds are more of a light gray color all over, with lighter bellies.
These quail live in the western USA, in areas of shrubland and open woodland. They do well near urban areas, but growing towns and cities are starting to put their habitats under pressure.
They usually live in small groups called coveys, and feed on seeds, leaves, berries and insects. Groups of California quail participate in a daily dust bath as a social activity. The small hollows these leave in the ground are a good way to tell if the birds are present in an area.
The females usually lay eggs in clutches of about a dozen, although there can be as many as 20. And sometimes, hens will lay a second clutch in a year. The chicks hatch after about 23 days.
If you’re keeping California quail in an aviary, the advice is to have only one pair. (And note that you’ll probably need a Domestic Game Breeder’s License. Check the rules where you live.) The birds will need a peaceful space with plenty of shrubs or tall clumps of grass to nest in.
Commercial feed mixes for pheasants or chickens can be used as the basis of their diet. But that will need to be supplemented with fresh greens, insects and chopped, hardboiled eggs or egg food.
5. Mountain quail
Mountain quail are also easily recognized by their distinctive headgear! Both males and females have long feathers known as topknots. These are longer in males than in females, and they change color according to the season and even the birds’ location.
Males have a gray breast, white barred belly, and brown face and back. Females generally have more brown in their plumage, a redder tint to their bellies, and whiter barring on their flanks.
This breed lives in mountainous areas to the west of the Rockies, up to 9,800 feet above sea level. They can also be found in California’s lava reefs, and in chapparal and woodland in Sierra Nevada.
They tend to get around on foot, and any flights are short and fast. They form large family groups in late summer, fall and winter, with as many as 20 birds living together. Adult birds eat mainly plants and seeds, but the diet of chicks includes more insects.
Male and female mountain quail form monogamous pairs. The female lays a clutch of around 9 or 10 eggs in a scrape in the ground, hidden by plants. The eggs are most usually laid near water, and the chicks hatch in between 21 and 25 days.
Note that if you’re considering keeping mountain quail, you may need a special license. Check the rules where you live.
6. Gambel’s quail
Gambel’s quail belongs to the New World order of quail. It can be found in the desert regions of Texas, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, California and New Mexico.
It’s another kind of quail with distinctive topknots, and the plumage on the birds’ bellies looks a bit like scales. The bodies of both sexes are usually a blue-gray color. Males also have copper caps and black faces, and they sport long white stripes above their eyes.
They’re easily confused with the California quail. To tell the two breeds apart, look at their bellies. The feathers of the California quail appear even scalier than those of Gambel’s quail. And if you’re looking at male bird with a black patch low on its breast, it’s a Gambel’s quail.
The diet of these birds is similar to that of the California quail too. Chicks eat more insects, while adult birds primarily eat seeds and plants. One of their favorites is the western honey mesquite.
Hens typically lay between 10 and 12 eggs at a time, and they may lay one or two clutches in a season. The chicks hatch between 21 and 31 days later.
7. Scaled quail
The scaled quail gets its name from the scale-like appearance of the feathers on its breast and back. It also has a blue-gray body and a tufty white crest.
There are a number of subspecies of scaled quail, including three which live in the US. Those are the Altiplano scaled quail, the northern scaled quail, and the Upper Sonoran scaled quail.
Scaled quail can be found in large numbers in the dry regions of central Mexico and southwestern USA. In fact, wherever you find mesquite, you’ll usually find scaled quails. It provides ideal ground cover for their nests, and mesquite seeds are a key part of their diets.
Scaled quail eat lots of seeds year-round, including more grass seed than most other quail breeds. They’ll also eat leaves, fruit and insects – particularly in the summer months, when these provide an important source of moisture.
Females lay their eggs in clutches that can have as few as nine or as many as 16 eggs. Most have between 12 and 14. They usually raise just one brood a year, although in some regions, females have been observed hatching a second brood later in the season.
If you want to raise scaled quail, it’s worth noting that they can be quite nervous. Some people have, however, found they’ll come to them for a mixed grain treat!
These birds will be happiest in a large pen where they can nest on the ground. An area of 20 feet by 8 feet is the bare minimum required.
Getting to know quail breeds
We hope you’ve enjoyed our introduction to just some of the many quail breeds out there.
Many of these birds make striking additions to an aviary. But do your research before deciding whether any of them are right for you. Some quail will do well in quartets or even small groups. in other cases, a single pair is the best option.
And check any rules for keeping quail where you live. In some cases, you may need a special license.