The Quail Diaries-Day 3. Part 1. Quail basics.

Today I trapped two–including this young male. If I were to guess, I’d say he was maybe 2 months old.

Sadly, I am experiencing some problems with equipment. My traps are pretty crappy–I made them fast and on the cheap and I err on the side of escapability. Today, two birds exited as I came over to the trap to pull them out.

So. What the hell am I doing out here messing with these poor birds?
Well, here’s a brief analysis. I spent five years in the field with them, during my dissertation research. I trapped, took behavioral observations and conducted captive experiments. I learned the birds more than most people in the world know them. There are a few others, including one Jennifer Gee, who know them pretty damn well, but not many. I feel as though in learning them this way, I fell into some sort of alternate space–one I do not really understand, but now know is far more complicated than originally assumed.

But to put this alternate space, this quail realm, into more concrete terms: these birds do not fit into the current avian paradigm for avian sociality and family behavior. This is a paradigm drawn up around, primarily, passerines and other birds with altricial young. Quail are precocial, nonterritorial, very social and have what may very well be a fission fusion system that affects behavior during both breeding and nonbreeding seasons alike. There is some suggestion that they recognize individuals based on vocalizations and plumage patterns–which I do not think would be particularly surprising given the social cohesion of the coveys during the nonbreeding season.

So, given the more concrete approach to thinking about the birds that I use as a researcher: here are some of the questions I wish to, somehow, pursue:

1. Do California quail indeed have a fission fusion system and what drives the relationships among individuals at any one point?
2. Does association during the nonbreeding season predict who will associate in communal families (families with more than one female adult and their respective offspring)?
3. What is going on with the rally squill calls? In this situation, a female will rally (contact) call–to be interrupted by a males squill (aggressive call). Is this antiphonal calling reinforcement of the pair bond or is it mate guarding?
4. Who are the adults in the family groups–how do the families change over time, from when the young hatch to when the coveys form?

I would also like, yes indeed very much, to go down to Mexico and get some very very basic natural history data on the elegant quail for which very very little is known. Here is a recording.

There are my basics. What I shall effect remains to be seen. And what it is about, me or the birds depends on your point of view.

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