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Quail (Coturnix coturnix)

Quail ( Coturnix coturnix )

Order : Chicken birds (Galliformes)
Family : Pheasants (Phasianidae)
Genre : Earth quail ( Coturnix )
Type : quail
Scientific name
Coturnix coturnix
( Linnaeus , 1758)
Males on the hill. Females at the nest
Female quail
Coturnix coturnix (Warsaw zoo) -1.JPG

The quail ( Coturnix coturnix ) is an approximately starling-sized , clandestine bird found in almost all of Europe, western Asia and much of Africa. It is the smallest hen in Europe . The widely audible so-called quail beat can be heard occasionally, but the inconspicuous birds are rarely seen. During the breeding season, they are particularly active at dawn and dusk. During the height of the courtship, they can also be heard occasionally during the day. Quails are ground birds and breed in dry meadows, on arable land, in steppes and loosely existing bushland.

In Central Europe, stocks have been falling for many years. The cause of the population decline is habitat destruction and, in parts of the distribution area, hunting. In Germany, the quail has been spared hunting all year round for many years.


Quail show only a slight sexual dimorphism . Adult males, also called quail cocks, have an overall gray-brown color with a multitude of red-brown and black strokes. On the middle of the head and on the sides of the crown, the white shaft lines of the feathers form three longitudinal stripes. The head sides are dashed dark. A reddish band runs from the corner of the beak, which laterally surrounds the whitish throat. This reddish band is in turn bordered by an indistinct creamy white band with a narrow brown edge. A brown stripe runs across the middle of the throat. The upper breast is cream-colored with small white vertical lines and merges into a white-gray in the lower breast area, which also extends over the stomach.

The front back shows black horizontal stripes and spots, the white shaft stripes of the feathers result in a longitudinal drawing. The wings are gray. The wing-coverts and wing feathers show a horizontal pattern of thin whitish stripes. The rump and the upper tail are dark with a horizontal drawing of wide black and narrow reddish and white stripes.

The females, also called quail hens, are largely similar to the males. As a rule, however, they are only plain white-gray on the chest and front neck. The band that surrounds the throat only extends to the side of the throat.

Both the roosters and the hens have small and curved bills . The size of the quail is about 15 to 20 centimeters, its weight about 90 to 110 grams. Adult birds moult part of their plumage in March and April. The annual full moult begins in the second half of June, but the moulting times can vary greatly from person to person.

Young birds are colored similar to the females, but their plumage is a little more dull. The chicks are pale yellowish beige on the underside of the body. The top of the body is orange-beige with a dark spot on the forehead. Starting from the forehead patch, two parallel, dark vertical stripes extend to the nape of the neck. A black-brown central stripe runs down the middle of the back to the tail. There are two dark stripes on each wing.

Due to their small size and their predominantly gray plumage, quail cannot be confused with any other species in Central Europe. In the east of its range, however, it can also be confused with the Japanese quail , a closely related species.


Quail strike (recording time 37 s)

The quail has a number of whistling, trilling and cooing calls that are rarely heard by humans in the wild. Is very much known as the quail called song of the quail. It is a three-syllable motif that is popularly paraphrased as pick-werwick , with the first and third syllables emphasized. Usually the male quail calls out four to seven blows in a row. The female responds to the male's calls with a soft gru-gru . The call of the male quail can be heard up to a distance of about half a kilometer.

Distribution area

Distribution of the quail:
  • Breeding areas
  • Year-round occurrence
  • Wintering areas
  • Population probably extinct & introduced
  • Introductory areas
  • The range of the quail extends over almost all of Europe, the western part of Asia and a large part of Africa. Quails are pronounced migratory birds. Most of the population winters in Africa south of the equatorial forests and in Sudan , Egypt and India.


    The quail's habitat are open fields and meadows with a high herbaceous layer that provides cover. She prefers areas with deep to slightly moist soils. Typical breeding biotopes are cereal areas, fallow land, alfalfa and clover fellings. But it also occurs in salt marshes with saltweed stocks and in loamy wormwood steppes. At higher altitudes it also inhabits meadows surrounded by forest. In Armenia it occurs at altitudes up to 2575 meters, in the Transili-Alatau in Central Asia even up to 3000 meters above sea level .


    Quail feed on seeds and insects .

    Plant food predominates throughout the year. In spring, quails mainly eat green parts of plants and seeds from various grasses. In summer they also eat insects of different orders. These often include beetles , leaf bugs , darkling beetles , Orthoptera , weevils and sometimes snails. In the fall, quail also feed on cereal grains and millet.


    Quail eggs

    Quail are polygamous . Each male mates with each female that the male seeks out and lures. If a female competes for several males at the same time, there can also be fights between the males.

    The nest is a shallow, dug out hollow on the ground. It is poorly padded by the female with blades of grass and other surrounding plants. The breeding season varies locally and across the entire range very strongly. A breeding season from mid or late May to July is typical for Central Europe . Quails usually only raise one brood per year. Occasionally, however, there is also a second brood.

    A clutch usually contains between seven and twelve eggs. The eggs are oval to pear-shaped with a smooth and shiny shell. The background is whitish to yellow. The eggs have very different sprinkles. Dense chocolate, red or light brown sprinkles are typical. It only breeds the female who takes up the breeding business after the clutch has been completed. The young hatch largely synchronously after 16 to 19 days. However, it takes about two days from the opening of the first egg shell to the hatching of the last chick. The chicks flee the nest . They hatch within a short time and leave the nest after a few hours. They are only led by the female. The young birds can already flutter at 11 days and by the time they reach the 19th day of life they are already fully capable of flight.


    According to the IUCN , the quail has declined slightly in its population, but is not considered to be endangered.

    Due to extreme population fluctuations, some of which are also caused by climatic invasions, the difficult recording of the population due to the short call phases and the limited possible differentiation between breeding birds and migrants as well as the insufficiently researched migration flow in spring and summer, statements about the long-term population development are in Central Europe hardly possible. What is certain is that there have been phases with long-lasting lows in earlier centuries. It was not until the 19th century that the species became more abundant and reached its largest European area. After 1890 the species declined and the populations recovered both after 1915 and again after 1930.

    After 1960 there was a drastic decline in the population as a result of habitat destruction through intensified agriculture with the use of fertilizers and pesticides and, at the same time, high hunting pressure. Local populations in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Russia were also extinct. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous increases in stocks again, in which the extensification of agriculture and set-aside programs certainly play a role.

    Man and quail

    Quail as pets

    Box of quail eggs from the supermarket

    Quail was already considered a delicacy by the ancient Egyptians and is still considered a delicacy because of its eggs and its meat. They are also kept as ornamental birds. For both purposes, the quail described here and other species are kept less . The Romans used quail cocks as fighting cocks .

    The laying quail kept as pets or farm animals is a domestic form of the Japanese quail ( Coturnix japonica , Syn . : Coturnix coturnix japonica ).


    Quail meat ( Coturnix coturnix ) can be poisonous under certain conditions. The reason for this is probably that quail feed on plants that are poisonous for humans but not for the quail itself. Exactly which plants are involved is unclear. Quail meat poisoning is called coturnismus , after the Latin name for quail . The symptoms of intoxication are noticeable in the form of muscle pain, which is an expression of the breakdown of muscle cells ( rhabdomyolysis ). The oxygen transport protein myoglobin released by the muscle cells can then lead to blockage of Bowman's membrane of the kidney corpuscles and thus to acute kidney failure . The poisoning by quail meat is probably already described in the Bible (see Num 11,31-34  EU ).


    • Hans-Günther Bauer, Einhard Bezzel , Wolfgang Fiedler (eds.): The compendium of birds in Central Europe: Everything about biology, endangerment and protection. Volume 1: Nonpasseriformes - non-sparrow birds. Aula-Verlag Wiebelsheim, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-89104-647-2 .
    • Heinz-Sigurd Raethel : quail, partridge, stone fowl, francoline and relatives. Reutlingen publishing house, Reutlingen 1996, ISBN 3-88627-155-2 .
    • Rudolf Kiwitt: Quail - Breeding and keeping . Ulmer publishing house, ISBN 3-8001-4862-5 .
    • Friedel Bernhardt, Armin Kühne: Quail - keep as ornamental poultry . Eugen Ulmer Verlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8001-4950-6 .
    • RL Potapov, VE Fling (ed.): Handbook of the birds of the Soviet Union. Volume 4: Galliformes, Gruiformes. Aula Verlag, Wiesbaden 1989, ISBN 3-89104-417-8 .

    Web links

    Commons : Quail  album with pictures, videos and audio files

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 12.
    2. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 11.
    3. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 13.
    4. Collin Harrison, Peter Castell: Young birds, eggs and nests of birds in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. 2nd Edition. Aula, Wiebelsheim 2004, ISBN 3-89104-685-5 , p. 112.
    5. ^ Hans-Heiner Bergmann, Hans-Wolfgang Helb, Sabine Baumann: The voices of the birds of Europe - 474 bird portraits with 914 calls and chants on 2,200 sonograms. Aula-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-89104-710-1 , p. 76 and p. 77. This source has been used for the onomatopoeic description of the voices.
    6. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 14.
    7. Bauer et al., P. 151.
    8. Popatov & Fling, 1989, p. 15.
    9. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 17.
    10. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 16.
    11. ^ Potapov & Fling, 1989, p. 17.
    12. Collin Harrison, Peter Castell: Young birds, eggs and nests of birds in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. 2nd Edition. Aula, Wiebelsheim 2004, ISBN 3-89104-685-5 , p. 112.
    13. Bauer et al., P. 149.
    14. ^ Bauer et al., P. 150.
    15. a b Lexicon of Antiquity: Quail. Lexikon der Antike, p. 6102. (see LDA, p. 625)
    16. see Wikipedia article on coturnism
    17. I. Korkmaz, FM Kukul Güven, SH Eren, Z. Dogan: Quail Consumption Can Be Harmful . In: J Emerg Med . tape 41 , no. 5 , October 2008, p. 499-502 , doi : 10.1016 / j.jemermed.2008.03.045 , PMID 18963719 .
    18. M. Tsironi, P. Andriopoulos, E. Xamodraka: The patient with rhabdomyolysis: have you considered quail poisoning? In: CMAJ . tape 171 , no. 4 , August 2004, p. 325–326 , doi : 10.1503 / cmaj.1031256 , PMID 15313988 , PMC 509041 (free full text).
    19. T. Ouzounellis: Some notes on quail poisoning . In: JAMA . tape 211 , no. 7 , February 16, 1970, p. 1186-1187 , doi : 10.1001 / jama.1970.03170070056017 , PMID 4904256 .