In the past week two people have told me that they saw a covey of Bobwhite quail. I figured there were still some of these plump little quail around, but it's been several years since I've seen them in the Kickapoo Valley.
The soft whistle of a quail is one of nature's most soothing sounds. The sound evokes the same feeling that comes over me when I hear the cooing of a mourning dove. Their peaceful songs seem to say, "All is well, don't worry... all is well."
At one time, there seemed to be Bobwhite quail everywhere in these mountains, but these days they are rarely seen. It's likely that several factors have contributed to their decline in population. Human activity has reduced the amount of good quail cover, and there's an increased population of predators like raccoons, skunks, cats, and turkeys. These rascals can make it hard for a ground nesting bird to hatch her clutch of eggs.
Being ground feeders, quail may have a rough time if the snow gets deep and the temperature drops. If they can't scratch up enough to eat, the birds will soon become too weak to survive. The temperature here has dropped to below zero, and I often wonder how delicate little birds like the quail are faring in the bitter cold. Deep down, I know they will be fine as long as the snow doesn't get too deep, and they can find enough to eat.
When I was a boy, the first Bobwhite quail I ever saw were in a flock of twelve. They were backed up to each other in a tight circle against a snowdrift. It was very cold and windy, and the quail were joined together to help ward off the danger of freezing.
Since that day, I have seen these quail all over the eastern United States, and they are always a treat to see and hear.
The quail in this week's picture are, from left to right, the California quail, Scaled quail, Bobwhite quail, and the Mountain quail. Of the five species of quail in North America, I have been lucky enough to see these four - all but the Gambel's quail, who lives in the far southwest corner of the country. All of the North American quail are about the same size, and spend most of their lives in a covey of ten to 30 birds. When a flock of quail bursts up from the ground to fly away, the whir of their wings is surprisingly loud.
The Mountain quail may be found in Washington, Oregon and the mountains of California and Nevada. Although they are excellent flyers, these quail would rather walk. It's not unusual for them to walk 20 to 30 miles without once taking flight!
The Scaled quail is found in Western Texas and New Mexico. Possibly the most social birds in the quail family, Scaled quail can be seen in coveys of 100 or more. They nest during the rainy months of June and July, when there are more insects for the young birds to eat. In one season, a pair of adult Scaled quail may raise two or three broods of eight to 16 young each.
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