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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

4:12 PM - Quail game

California Quail are in abundance here. I think they are the stupidest birds on the planet which makes them amusing and sorrowful at the same time.

Quail are short fat birds, about the size of a british coot (the black birds seen on lakes with a white smudge on their foreheads). They have speckled breasts and the males have blue grey wings folded over their backs with distinctive chequered patterns underneath. They have a silly quill on top of their heads which dangles forwards over thier eyes and bobs up and down as they run. And they run as often as they must and fly only when necessary.

Quail have a great capacity for reproducing. A pair will hatch approximately 10-12 young early in the season and when they're almost full size, will produce another batch. Just to make sure, families stick together so it's not unusual to see flocks of 40-80 birds hanging out together, eating, occasionally running and generally being flustered and stupid together.

They are the type of organism whose legs operate independantly from their brain, meaning that the bird moves in whichever direction its head is pointing. If you are in the middle of startling it with your approaching vehicle, it will deffinately run towards your car before the brain does the math, applies the logic then finally steers the legs away from the car. If a whole flock are present, each bird runs in a different direction and they remind me of a 1980s computer game (pacman or something) where the computer can't work out what to do when all the bad guys meet eachother down an alley way so they all wander up and down bumping into eachother before moving along and bumping into the next bad buy etc etc.) Again I emphasise that they only fly if they must. They do this less frequently than the English (probably french in origin) Pheasant.

If your car was too close to the quail in the first place, the running instinct results in quail tradgedy which can be heartbreaking, since their mating instincts causes them to be very attached to their mate. You will often witness the other half of the pair running back into the road desperately trying to figure out why its best friend, that was only just recently following it, is no longer moving. Sorry, I have to move on here, it's too painful.

If a pair becomes separated, they miss the large family group so often two males or three females can be seen wandering around playing family, trying to look like a bigger flock.

The large family groups can move through long grass with apparent stealth, only appearing in a frenzy of running, bobbing and clucking when something scares them.

The most efficient way for a quail to get into the air, is to continue paddling with the feet, even when airbourne. I don't know why this is - possibly to ensure that the ground is no longer there. Last night I witnessed a quail attempting to take off without the paddling action. It bent both "knees" together and hefted its huge mass into the air with great effort. Unfortunately previous forward momentum from running won over and the bird completed a somersault, complete with flapping wings before shaking its head and moving to try a second time.

Quail do not soar or beat their wings they desperately flap. Flight takes them only as far as the nearest pole, fence post or tree branch. Often just further along the ground. They are insufficiently co-ordinated to land on cables, or maybe their mass would cause them to do an upside down rotation on a cable, before thier feet had to let go because it couldn't hold the weight.

Last week the cat brought a tiny quail chick home. It was still very alive and I managed to wrestle it from the cat before much harm was done. By the time I had shoved the cat in the house (like putting an octopus into a string bag) the little bird had hidden itself very well so no pics I'm affraid. It was very cute and all quail are pretty cute really. With their foppy hairdo and short legs, fat bellies and every call from a little chirp to a wood-pidgeon-type haunting "hoo hoooo-hoo" I love them dearly. Since our lot is no longer bush, we've seen much less of them this year as there's a free-range cat and no place to hide. I have few pictures of them because they are so scaredy, it's hard to get a still shot. I do wish I had a helmet-cam on my rides to work, then I could share the wonder of 40 fat birds making it into the air, legs a paddlin'.

There's no conclusive ending to this post, it's just a ramble and time to go home.


Blogger graculus said...

I'll watch what I say here now, after what you wrote at omega  


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