What is a Quail?

Mary McMahon

The term “quail” is used to refer to two distinctly different, though related, groups of birds within the order Galliformes. Old World quail are in the pheasant family, while New World birds are in the family Odontophoridae. While the birds may look superficially similar, they are fact genetically quite distinct; the reason that the name is used to discuss both groups is because early colonists were not terribly skilled at identifying wildlife, and they had a tendency to re-use Old World terms rather than coming up with more specific names for New World discoveries.

Quail is a popular game bird.
Quail is a popular game bird.

Old World quail are fairly small, plump, migratory birds. Most of them are found in the genus Coturnix, and they have been hunted as game birds for centuries. Because of their small size, quail are time-consuming to prepare, but many consumers think that the preparation is worth it for the delicate flavor of well-prepared meat. As a result, some species are domesticated and kept on farms for the purpose of ensuring a steady supply of meat and eggs, another delicacy.

European quail nest on the ground, despite the fact that they are capable of flight, and the birds eat a diet that is primarily composed of seeds. Their name comes from the Latin coacula, mimicking the sound of their cry, and they generally have mottled plumage, short tails, and short necks with rounded heads. Like many creatures in the order Galliformes, quail are not known for their searing intelligence, and in captivity, they have been known to drown themselves by accident, run into walls, and injure themselves in other strange pratfalls.

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New World quail are smaller than their Old World namesakes, and they are strictly terrestrial. The birds vastly prefer walking and running to flight, only taking flight when they feel that they have no other option. This is a source of amusement to some people who interact with them on a regular basis, as the birds will run faster and faster from a pursuer, bobbing their heads frantically, before finally fluttering to nearby bushes and trees.

These quail are also pursued as game birds, with many hunters enjoying the meat when it is in season. Because the birds are so small, people typically require several to fill up, and the birds may be inventively stuffed or presented in other creative ways to make the most use of the limited amount of tender, dark meat.

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Discussion Comments


What should I consider before trying to raise quail? I was in the Asian Market the other day and saw that a dozen quail eggs cost eight dollars. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to do something on the side for cash. I used to raise chickens for meat, show, and eggs, but I have never raised quail. Are they much different from raising chickens? What kind of feed do they eat? What are their space requirements?

I often go to the local farmers markets, so maybe I will try to see if I can establish a market for quail eggs there. I live in an urban area, but I have a large backyard. The city I live in allows the raising of birds within city limits as long as I am raising less than a certain number and I have no roosters (If I raise chickens).


@framemaker- Whatever you do, do not shoot or trap the Bobwhite quail. The federal and state government under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Lacey Act protects this species. Killing these birds can result in jail time or heavy fines. The quail is identifiable by its reddish brown breast, black hood, and white stripe that run from its eye down its neck. The bird also does not have a crown. The bobwhite quail's habitat runs is mostly grassy savannah areas near acacia trees in the southern part of the state, near Pima County I think. If you see one of these rare quails, do the right thing and leave it be.


@Framemaker- You would probably enjoy hunting Gambel, Scaled and Mearns quail in Arizona. The common California quail is not usually hunted for their meat, but you can take them if you want. If I am correct, Hawaii has Gambels and California quail in the highlands and North Coast.

You can find the Gambel throughout the state, but they offer the least meat. Scalies are the biggest, and have a little cotton crest on their heads. These quail inhabit the western part of the state. Mearns' quail are found in the southern part of the state, and are the most elusive. They are also as big as scalies, but are quite a bit plumper. These quails almost always hold on a dog, rather than being flushed out.

Hunting season for quail varies by species. The more abundant Gambels and Scalies can be hunted and trapped between October and February and have a 15-bird daily bag limit. The less abundant Mearns quails are in season from November to February and have an 8-bird daily bag limit. Have fun and good luck.


What are the rules on Quail hunts in Arizona? I used to hunt quail as a boy in Hawaii, and the meat is delicious. We would shoot the birds with high-powered pellet rifles. I can still remember helping my father and uncle dress the quail so we could sauté them in butter and garlic.

After moving to Arizona, I noticed there are quail everywhere. I would love to hunt these little birds again and experience a little bit of my childhood. I think my son would have fun going quail hunting too.

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