The Quail Diaries El Segundo, second post

Happy 2009.


This morning the mist was low and the hills looked like little islands.

Then it rose and blanketed everything.


The quail get up later, at least this is what I have found, when the mist hangs low–waiting until it has burned off before flying out of their night roost and wandering off for food.

Here is one of the things that make quail trying, at least for me. Many species are territorial–researchers can map out where they typically spend their time. Often, these territorial species spend time vocalizing and notifying everyone of their territorial boundaries. Territories are, of course, not permanent, but at least they render some predictability to the proceedings.

California quail (and other new world quail of their ilk) are nonterritorial. During the fall and winter, you can find them assembled into large social groups called coveys. The size of these coveys are, in part, defined by resource availability–bigger coveys can be supported by larger, more stable resource supplies (e.g. large feeding stations). The coveys break up and regroup during the day as birds wander around to feed. Whether the composition of these smaller groups is random or not is of interest to me.

But…to my point of complaint. The coveys have a rough home range, but their movement within the range (which can have a diameter of several km), is not static. So how do you find, trap and observe birds that are not tied to a territory? A year-round feeding station helps, which is what I have with the group I am working with now. But without that it becomes more complicated. The baseline is that you need to discover the quail’s daily schedule. Where do they tend to go to feed during they day–for days or weeks the covey will follow the same pattern. Unfortunately, they also will suddenly shift, meaning that you have to start all over. During my Ph. D. research, when I did not have a feeding station, I would discover their daily pattern, trap and take observations and feel pretty good about the whole thing and then, come out after a couple of weeks and they would be gone, traversing a different path. And I would have to start all over again locating their tracks and calls. Why the sudden shift in daily trajectory is another interesting question…any ideas?

Standardized focal observations, as one would take with captive birds or with territory holders, does not work with the quail during this time. You have to take observations on whomever shows up and be happy with that. I suppose one is more likely to be surprised by this sort of thing…at least at a small daily level (Oh! there’s R/W S/K today, how nice…).

At any rate…it is a different thing.

And here are some other observations. The bees are very very loud clustering around lemonade berry bushes. I found a pelvis of a coyote and it is very white.


I have seen several California gnatcatchers and they are as wonderful as ever. I like birds whose tails stick up perkily. I have also had encounters with various species of wrens (including the cactus wren, up in Irvine) on this trip. I quite like wrens.

There are an excessive number of Anna’s hummingbirds.  They are loud and everywhere and fighting and displaying and drinking nectar from the agaves and I wonder why I am not working with them.  It does seem as though the local housing development has helped rather than hurt their populations.

This is, by the way, not entirely surprising.  The response of bird populations to habitat destruction and development depends on the species and on the type of development.     [See this link for a newspaper article about this issue in the Pacific NW].  Even the response of bird populations to the eradication of feral cat colonies is not always positive.

I trapped 6 quail total yesterday. Five in the morning. One male was unbanded


I trapped a 6th in the evening–R K/K. Banded with the same color combination as my favorite quail from long ago. R K/K  took me on a radiotracking ride through the chaparral and poison oak as I tried to find her nest…which never materialized. She never had chicks that year but she was a fabulous bird.

This morning I caught R K/K yet again, and a male that I trapped last time I was here.

I have some idea of their movements during the morning and will perhaps start taking observations tomorrow or Saturday.


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