Quails in the Aviary
Quails are the goofy little birds that run around the bottom of an aviary, fuss around in the sand and nestle quietly together into the corners. Whilst other birds enjoy the middle and upper areas of the cage, these birds prefer to keep their feet on the ground, enhancing an aviary by providing interest at the lower levels.
Australia has ten native species of quail but these can be divided into two groups. The King Quail, Brown Quail and the Stubble Quail are from the genus Coturnix which has four toes, three facing forward and one facing back. The other group is from the genus Turnix and is commonly called Button quail which has only three toes, all of which face forward.
Little Button Quail are probably the most popular in home aviaries as they are easily cared for, quiet, free breeding and can become extremely tame. Females are larger than the males and not quite as colourful. Males have a red underbelly and blue blush with a distinctive black and white chest and can even be known to crow.
Quail can be kept in the same aviary as finches, canaries, pigeons and most small docile parrots, including budgies but care should be taken with Lovebirds that may attack them.
Being predominantly ground dwelling, quail need plenty of space to run around so care should be taken not to overpopulate an aviary. In general, an aviary of 2 metres long and about 1.5 metres wide should cater for one pair of quail. At least half of the roof should be covered to offer protection and at least one wall should be made of solid material. A double door will help to stop these very fast birds from escaping as you walk into the aviary with food and water.
Place a few upturned wooden crates or polystyrene boxes with holes in at the back of the aviary for them to escape into and hollow logs or large pipe for them to hide in. Include a dried bunch of branches for them to nestle amongst or perhaps some potted plants of bamboo or grasses. If the aviary floor is concrete, cover it with layer of clean dry sand and, to mimic a forest floor, spread dry leaves and grasses over part of it. Quail do not bath in water but prefer to dust bathe in the sand on the floor or in a shallow dish.
The wire on the aviary should be made of mouse proof wire which has 7mm gaps or a solid material such as flat galvanised sheet metal. Care needs to be especially taken if baby quail are in an aviary as they are very small and move quickly so check the gaps around doors and add a second barrier if necessary – they can easily run through the 13mm wire often seen on cages. In a large aviary, it is a good idea to restrict the babies to a part of the cage so that they don’t get lost or stuck in bad weather.
Although part of the roof may have protection, it is important to offer extra protection in winter. Flying birds can huddle on the upper perches but quail do not have this option so temporary walls and roofing may be needed to keep them dry and out of draughts.
Quail can take off vertically when frightened causing them injury so when transporting them, use a box with less height and attach a thick foam or rubber lining to the inside of the roof. Quail can fly although not long distances or as well as other birds and if startled they will tend to take off at steep angles often hitting the roof or a wall at great speed. Although it’s not necessary in all breeds, wing feather clipping can reduce the potential of this problem and also stop them from disturbing the other birds that may be nesting.
FOOD AND WATER
A good quality finch or small parrot mix provides just about everything that quail need but they do also enjoy insects, some vegetables, seeding grass and pre-mix soft foods.
During breeding season, place a sod of soil into the aviary every few days which will provide live food, greens and minerals or offer some mealworms or commercially raised cockroaches. They will also benefit from the grits and calcium often supplied to other aviary birds.
Quail scratch their food like chickens which can result in it being scattered, uneaten, onto the floor. To avoid this, use a deeper food bowl making sure that even the youngsters can still get in and out of it.
It is important not to make quail survive on the discarded seed from the elevated platforms used for other flying birds in the aviary. Quail eat the whole seed but most other birds remove the seed husk and eat the de-husked part, discarding the rest. It may look like there is enough seed on the floor but in actual fact it is just empty seed husks.
Quails need plenty of access to clean water in a shallow dish but be careful not to place the dish under a perch that may be higher up to avoid other birds from defecating in it. If there are chicks in the aviary place some clean pebbles or stones in the bowl to give them a safe spot and to prevent them from drowning.
Breeding groups of quail should be made up of one species only, usually one male and two females in each aviary. Having too many males in a cage will cause fighting and unsuccessful mating.
Many quail will lay throughout the year if conditions are suitable but the normal cycle is from spring to autumn. The nest is made in a small hollow in the floor which they line with soft nesting material such as grass and leaves. Sometimes these are covered depending on the amount of material available to them.
With the Button quail, it’s the males that do the incubating of the eggs and raising of the chicks so that after the eggs have been laid and the male has shown that he is definitely caring for the eggs, the female can be removed from the aviary so that he will not be distracted from his duties. If left in the aviary, the female can entice him away to start a new nest and then the first clutch will be lost.
Although the female Button quail can be moved into another aviary with a new male, care must be taken to give her adequate rest in between laying. Signs of aggression must be watched for as male birds may not approve of their new mate. The hen should be fully mature before breeding is started and should not be allowed to lay more than three consecutive clutches.
With Coturnix quail, the opposite approach is used since the hens do the incubating of the eggs. The male bird is removed once the female has definitely started her incubation duties.
Quail do not like their nests to be inspected and many will go to a lot of trouble to make the nest private so it is best to avoid this at least until after the first week of incubation. A nervous bird may panic and fly erratically, possibly causing injury or death and probably the loss of the clutch of eggs as well.
The incubation period will last between 14 and 21 days depending on the breed. When the babies hatch they are fast to get on their feet and run around the aviary. To feed, the Coturnix hen will call the young to her and drop food in front of them which they will pick up. For the Button quail, the male will supply food from his beak into the baby’s beak up until about 24 days after which they become independent but this feeding regime makes Button quail difficult to hand raise and incubate.
SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS
Quail are tough little birds if offered a broad range of quality food, plenty of water and a clean environment. They like a peaceful existence so disturb then as little as possible. Watch for any damage done by other birds in the aviary though as even finches can become aggressive towards them on rare occasions.
If the bird appears listless and is unable to go to the toilet without a jerky tail movement or discomfort, he may be constipated. Add more greens to the diet and allow more exercise. Loose droppings or diarrhea is often evident by wet or soiled feathers around the bird’s vent and loose droppings on the floor. Where this is the case, withhold green foods for a few days and feed him only on seed.
Baldness and feather plucking can sometimes be caused by mite which can be treated though all perches and furniture in the aviary should also be cleaned, disinfected or swapped at the same time. Mite treatments are available at Better Pets and Gardens which will help to control the problem.
An avian veterinarian is always the best place to start when dealing with broken wings or legs or any problems that persist. If a bird is sick enough to need heat, it is sick enough to need a vet so act quickly at the first sign of problems. Before taking a bird to the vet, phone ahead to ensure that they are the best one to visit. They will often recommend a specialist avian vet and will have the contact details available for you.
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