Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2007
Regional Report

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Quail eggs lie in a ground nest made of leaves, feathers, and twigs.

Make Room for Quail

I am codependent with baby quail. Unaware of any support groups related to wild game birds, this affliction will just have to run its course. Gambel's quail were born in my enclosed backyard. The babies are almost all ready to fly to the top of the block wall and explore the big world beyond. I can't seem to take my eyes off their fascinating development!

Only Dad remains to stand guard, Mom having disappeared soon after birth. The five babies forage amongst the plants during the day, and then congregate in the same spot in late afternoon to practice flying under Dad's tutelage. He has chosen the only area with multiple "stepping stones" to reach the top of the wall. He started by hopping up on the raised bed bricks, which are about 12 inches high, continuously calling and clucking to his offspring. It took several days for all of them to follow. There is one runt (I call him "Tiny"), whose size and progress is a couple days behind the others, and one sibling (Big Fella) who is bigger than the others and the first to accomplish tasks. The other three are about the same size, and they zip around so fast, I can't tell them apart. So I refer to them collectively as Zippy, Skippy, and Trippy.

On the afternoon that the four siblings made it to the top of the raised bed, poor Tiny raced back and forth along its base, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, cheeping frantically. Afraid that Tiny would use up all energy reserves on the hot concrete, I set a flat, 3-inch-high rock in front of the bed as a step ladder (co-dependency in action). Quick to learn, Tiny jumped on it, then to the top of the raised bed to join the others. Tiny is small, not stupid!

Learning to Fly
For their next lesson, the babies lined up on the raised bed, like mini feathered planes, fluffing their wings, to practice take-offs and landings. They always launch from the corner to land on ground adjacent to plant cover as opposed to landing on the patio's open concrete. Just before dark, flight practice halts. Dad scooches out a depression in soft soil, raises his body up and the babies scurry beneath him for warmth, sort of like parking in an underground hangar for the night.

Basic flying skills developed, Dad began demonstrating how to obtain more height, jumping up on the rim of a large container, a chair, a patio table and even stiff, spiky yucca leaves that are about 3 feet tall. All babies bounced and fluttered to these new levels for a couple days, increasing their flight proficiency, with Tiny again struggling more than the others. I don't know who was more surprised, me or Big Fella, the day she/he just zoomed up to the top of the block wall out of the blue, strutting behind Dad's heels. One of the 'ippys made it the next day, and I assume the other two will be up there soon.

I'm somewhat concerned that everyone will depart and leave Tiny behind. Or all five might make it over the wall to the ground below, then return to my backyard to sleep or forage without Tiny. It's a sheer drop on the other side so Tiny might not be able to make it back over. Baby quail freeze at night without a parent's body heat. (More codependent worrying!) But perhaps in Mother Nature's wisdom, Dad knows how to guide his offspring until are all ready to head over yonder.

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