Quail is a collective name for several genera of medium-sized birds generally placed in the order Galliformes.
Old World quails are placed in the family Phasianidae and New world quails are placed in the family Odontophoridae.
The king quail, an Old World quail, is often sold in the pet trade, and within this trade, it is commonly, though mistakenly, referred to as “Button quail.”
‘Button quail’ species are named for their superficial resemblance to quail and form the family Turnicidae in the order Charadriiformes.
Many of the larger common species are raised on farms for meat or egg consumption and hunted on game farms or in the wild, where they can be released to supplement the wild population or extend into areas outside their range natural range.
In 2007, 40 million quails were produced in the US.
Types Of Quail
There are 10 types of quail most commonly kept as pets:
- The Chinese painted quail
- The Coturnix or Japanese quail
- Bobwhite quail
- Gambel’s quail
- Mearn’s quail
- Mountain quail
- Scaled quail
- California (Valley) quail
- Manipur Bush quail
- Jungle Bush quail
The Chinese painted quail is popular in aviaries and is the smallest quail in the world, but the Coturnix or Japanese quail is more popular for producing eggs or meat. with smallholders and backyard poultry farmers.
Keeping Quail As Pets
Quails can be very productive laying around 230 eggs per year, making them an ideal solution for people with small backyards that are not suitable for chickens.
However, they are more nervous than other poultry and do not like to be handled, so care must be taken when catching them because they can fly vertically upwards to escape capture.
Rats are a real problem for quail and one of the first things you should consider when planning to keep quail as pets is their runs and housing. Ventilation in the housing is also important as quail droppings produce much more ammonia than other poultry.
Quail can be kept with or without run as long as some grass or other vegetables are provided in their diet.
It’s probably best to start by converting the housing you already have, making sure it has adequate ventilation, or buying a rabbit hutch. Rabbit hutches are usually large enough for half a dozen quail and provide adequate ventilation and a hiding place to lay eggs.
Housing For Quail
Chicken housings are wasted on quail. They don’t need such elaborate nest boxes, although they will appreciate a dark place to lay eggs.
Quails don’t always make nests; they will generally lay their eggs in discreet places on their bedding.
Perches are also wasted on quail and most coops are lifted off the ground, which is also a problem.
In their run, quail prefer a habitat much closer to that of a pheasant than that of a chicken. Their natural habitat provides them with places to nest and hide and it helps if you can replicate this with cut coniferous branches or the like for cover and a few small logs raised off the ground with a couple of bricks for them to hide under or behind.
Quails need more protection during the colder winter months (when the temperature is approaching freezing or below). Some people move their housing to a garden shed or garage. (But I have had no problem keeping mine outside in a sheltered position, using a few extra inches of bedding to keep them well insulated from the floor and locked in their housing on cold or wet days.)
As with any animal, humidity and draughts will cause problems, so although they require good ventilation, it may be necessary to cover them if there are strong winds. (I’ve done this using an old jacket in the past, so it doesn’t need to be elaborate.)
Quail like to spend their time on the ground and they don’t like climbing, so they won’t use a ramp to get into their housing. The housing must be close to the ground. If their housing is too close to the ground, rats can burrow underneath, so a compromise has to be made, or a concrete floor should be used under the housing. (I have been successful with a housing raised about 4 inches off the ground using a wide, shallow ramp so they can enter through the opening hole.)
When scared, quail are able to fly vertically. For this reason, the runs must be covered to contain them.
When approaching quail for cleaning or other tasks, it helps to move slowly, allowing them to scurry off elsewhere. If you startled, there is a risk of damaging their head on the roof of their housing or, worse still, on the unforgiving wire of a run.
A net of fruit or other soft material can be stretched across the run, just below the roof to soften the blow of your Harrier Jump Jet impressions.
Runs should also have boards around the bottom edge around 6 inches high for the same reason. Other pets, such as cats and dogs, should be watched carefully at first.
(We have not had any problems, our cats and dogs have ignored them and our quails have relaxed quite close to them, but I have heard stories of dogs that get excited and scare the quail causing them unnecessary stress.)
Things to consider when providing housing for quail
- Buy a suitable house for your quail. Due to their small size, quail can live in most types of housing, including guinea pig housings, rodent cages, chicken coops, and aviaries.
There are two ways to buy a home, either buy one or build one. It is important to give the quail no less than 1 square foot of floor space. A longer cage allows your quail room to roam, but a smaller cage can cause them stress due to close confinement.
- Make sure the space between the wires is a maximum of 1/2 inch, as quail can put their heads through anything larger. Due to their tiny feet, they do not do well with wire floor racks as they can fall and slip, causing discomfort and possible injury.
- Make sure the housing is the best it can be for your quail. Quail can be kept in any type of housing, but their housing needs a few things to make it safe and suitable for your quail.
These things include:
The housing should have easy access so that you can grab the quail when needed, feed and provide water for the quails every day, and clean the cage without problems every week.
- The quail housing must be protected from rain, wind, hail, snow, and sun. Note that although the cage needs to be protected from the wind and sun, and it still needs plenty of fresh air and a little sunlight. If you are unable to obtain a shelter, then you can try draping a waterproof sheet (for example, a tarp) over the home to keep it safe.
- The home must be safe and predator-proof. Dogs, feral cats, rats, snakes, raccoons, and foxes will eventually kill your quail if the housing is not safe enough or predator-proof. Small dogs may also dig under the housing and enter, birds may peck quail from wiring, and raccoons may break through wiring and grab quail.
Be aware that you can house your quail with finches, canaries, and parakeets. Note that if you are going to do this, it is best to keep quail and small birds in a fairly large aviary. Keeping them in a simple birdcage can cause stress for both the quail and the small bird. You get advantages and disadvantages with this option.
The advantages are that you do not need to spend a lot of money on housing for your quail and the quail will clean the seed that the birds drop to the ground.
The disadvantages are that the quail can attack the other birds or be attacked themselves, there is more mess to clean up in the aviary, and when the quails breed and hatch, the chicks can be attacked by other birds in the aviary.
- Place the housing in a suitable environment. Quail need a calm, warm but cool, calm, and peaceful place to stay and be happy. They should also be away from predators, including pets. A suitable place to house quail is under a tree during the summer or in a garage/shed during the winter.
- Add bedding to the housing. For their habitat bedding, you can use pine shavings, spruce wood chips, sand, newspaper pellets, grass pellets, Timothy hay, or non-slip kitchen liners. It is highly recommended that you give the quail some straw/hay to make their nests. This will encourage them to start laying eggs and they may even want to have a few chicks.
- Add padding to the top of the quail cage (optional). You may think that quail can’t fly, but when they’re scared, they can fly straight up to the roof. So for their cage, be sure to add padding on top to prevent the quail from damaging their head if it flies quickly.
- Add a few other items for your quail. Quails need more than just bedding to keep them happy.
Some items they need are:
Water container – This should not be too large or deep, as the quail should have easy access and not be in danger of drowning.
Feeder – The quail should be able to easily reach the feeder and the water container.
Hiding spots – You can buy a couple of large hamster huts and place them in the quail cage. Quails love a place to retreat to when they feel scared or think they are in danger.
Sand tub – Quails love to dust bathing on a daily basis, the sand also prevents pesky parasites like mites. Because quail get messy when they dust bathe, it is best to keep the sand tub away from the water container.
Small plants – If your quail live on dirt or grass, growing or planting a couple of plants in the housing will make your quail very happy!
Remember, quail are curious and love different kinds of plants in their habitat, just make sure the plants are not toxic to them.
Pet quail don’t overeat, so they can be fed ad-lib. They must be fed different foods according to their age:
- Baby quail can be fed a protein-rich starter crumb. While specialty feeds don’t usually exist specifically for quail, a non-medicated turkey starter crumb is ideal for baby quails because it is higher in protein than a chicken crumb.
- Starting at 5-6 weeks of age, they should be switched to a grower/finisher ratio, again a turkey feed comes to the rescue to provide the correct level of protein for the quail.
- At 10 weeks of age, quails that are being kept for their eggs or for breeding require a breeder feed that contains 18-20% protein. Some specialized quail feeds contain seeds and pellets. Adult quails consume about 15 g of food per day.
Green foods should be provided, so collect grass and other green leafy vegetables for them.
In addition to being entertaining to watch, my pet quail has been very productive in the egg department.
They are capable of laying around 230 eggs (some have laid as many as 300) if kept in the right conditions, with some light during the shorter days and adequate protection from the cold during winter.
Quails start laying eggs at 8-12 weeks (assuming there is enough daylight), so they are productive very quickly compared to chickens.
Four quail eggs are roughly the same as a chicken egg, although they do have a slightly higher amount of yolk to white in one egg.
If you get too many quail eggs, they can be easily pickled and stored for use at a later date.
Quail lay eggs well for the first year and often the second, and while most quail keepers suggest that quails will live for only 2 years. (I have found my quails to last 3-4 years. Maybe it’s due to good parenting, I’d like to think so!)
Male quails are notoriously difficult to sex when young, but males will start to call as they mature, identifying themselves.
The male Coturnix quail has reddish-brown chest feathers from the age of 3 weeks and when mature produces “foam balls” to indicate fertility.
These are urinary products produced by the cloacal glands. Many supermarket and farm eggs are fertile as a result of this difficulty. Some poultry farmers have incubated supermarket eggs (for 17 days) and they have hatched!
Health Issues In Quails
Quails are prone to get bored in their enclosure and, of course, cannot be set free-range like other poultry because of their ability to fly short distances.
If you can provide a run with climbing logs and objects for them to go under (for example, a piece of wood resting on bricks) to provide them with things to do will help. An area to take a dust bath is a must and they will spend many hours cleaning themselves in it.
Feather pecking can occur if the quail are bored, but also if the birds are low on protein. Feathers are mainly made up of protein, which is why birds eat them.
Check their food contains enough protein. Quail can also preen too much (what looks like a feather peck) if they have lice.
Treatment for lice is the same as for chickens.