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Feature Articles

Chinese Painted Quail

By DUSTY MILLER
I do not profess to be an expert on Quail and the following notes are the result of 4 or 5 years of personal observation, reading and listening to others. The notes are far from complete but I hope they will help you make your birds healthy and happy.

Pair of normal Chinese Painted or King Quail.
Pair of normal Chinese Painted or King Quail.

HOUSING AND GENERAL
There are several ways to house Quail, both indoors and outdoors, in aviaries, cages and even large Fish tanks. They are social birds and like company so it does not pay to have just one on its own, at least a pair is advisable. They are timid birds and, although they cannot fly properly, when they are startled in any way they will takeoff vertically and can harm themselves badly so care should be taken not to scare them in any way. They are very territorial and will attack any other Quail which is introduced to the group if they think it is encroaching on their ground and although only a small bird they can inflict serious injury on the intruder. If this does happen, it pays to separate them with a wire netting screen until they accept each other, 24 to 48 hours is usually sufficient time to achieve this. It is advisable, if your aviary is open to ground level, to have a board or bricks around the bottom about 30-40cms high to protect them from stray cats, dogs and other predators. This extremely important when chicks hatch, but more about that later.

Hen on nest.
Hen on nest.


FEEDING
Quail are a relatively easy bird to feed especially if kept in an aviary as they will readily eat most other bird food, not to say they do not need their own diet. They will eat seeds that your other birds have, depending on the size of the pellets, but have a special liking for Hungarian Millet. They will try most greens and fruit, and they will quickly clean a plant if it has aphids on it, supposed to be good for them. Other foods I have found that they like is Chick crumble, in small amounts and a finely mashed boiled egg with the shell crushed, once again in small amounts as it will go sour fairly quickly. They tend to enjoy scratching around rather than eating out of a dish but the food is much cleaner in a dish, of course.

They are fond of Mealworms but these can be quite expensive, I have found that they enjoy White Worms, which are actually bred for fish tank feeding but more affordable and easy to breed. I give mine a treat once or twice a week, depending on how the worms are breeding. When the hen is laying she needs calcium in powder form with her food. An affordable way is to finely crush a cuttlefish; the powder is quite expensive.

A good clutch of eggs typical of King Quail
A good clutch of eggs typical of King Quail

BREEDING
Quail are generally prolific breeders and good parents, this can of course vary, but if you get a good compatible pair it pays to keep them together. The hen will lay anything from 8 - 12 eggs in an apparent random manner in different parts of the aviary but she will eventually gather them together in one place and commence incubating. The incubation period is about 16 days and during this time she will rarely leave the nest except for the occasional drink and a hasty feed.

Silver Mutation on the left and pair of Blues on the right.
Silver Mutation on the left and pair of Blues on the right.

When the location of the nest is evident, a small amount of hay should be placed close by and she will use this for camouflage and somewhere she feels safe. If you have never seen Quail chicks hatch, you are in for an amazing experience. These tiny creatures are a real marvel of nature; they look after themselves almost immediately but are very dependent on their parents for warmth. They have been likened to "Bumble Bees on legs" and travel at incredible speed for their size, a real joy to watch. Unfortunately they are very susceptible to cold and can perish after only a few minutes away from their parents and the first 48 hours is crucial to their survival.

Mutation Cream hen
Mutation Cream hen

The father, who does little except keep watch during incubation, plays a large part in their upbringing, he will lead them to food and show them what to eat and he also plays his part in keeping them warm. If you do happen to see a chick away from the others and looking dead, try cupping it in your hand and breath warm air onto it for a while it has worked for me on more than one occasion. When it runs back with the others it is a very rewarding experience. As I mentioned earlier it is essential to have a board or bricks around the bottom of the wire as these tiny birds can get through the smallest of mesh and very rarely survive away from their parents. Good luck and enjoy your birds.

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