My organically raised coturnix quail is broody and sitting eggs - Update

I should have remembered that nothing is ever that simple when keeping birds and in particular with our quail. Although I was very optimistic, I did have a nagging doubt about Ginger's choice of nest and nesting site,  seemingly rather makeshift, cramped and exposed. However, what eventually happened was totally unexpected.

hatched organic coturnix quail eggs

Three freshly hatched eggs from Ginger's first nest!

On the eighth day of sitting, Ginger came out from behind the pallet shelving looking like she'd had a bad night, her feathers were ruffled and she seemed worried. If you have kept birds for any period of time and observed them closely, you will know that they are sentient beings and portray emotion vocally, facially, in body language and by behaviour. She ate her breakfast and remained out in the main area of the greenhouse and did not return to her nest after the usual 15 - 20 minutes. I decided to remain working in the greenhouse and observe her. After 30 minutes, I reached into the nest and removed four of the (presumed) remaining six eggs from the nest and put them under the Snow Queen. This, if you remember from my previous post, is the bantam Cochin I had prepared as back-up and who was already sitting some more of the other quail's eggs. Ginger did not return to the nest that morning, nor as far as I can tell, at any time later. So I was a bit miffed but pleased she had even made a first attempt and without a specially prepared safe nesting area! Furthermore I was so happy nothing had actually broken into the greenhouse, although, on checking, I found one of the original eggs was missing.

Then three days later I discovered a much more defined nest, it is actually called a scrape. This is made up of a shallow depression dug out in the soil, similar to that the quail make for sleeping but in addition, has bits of dried grass and straw pulled together from the surrounding area. I also noticed that the eggs were 'stored' pointed end downwards and partly buried in the soil. This nest had just three eggs and was hidden under the rosemary bush in exactly the same place as I had found a nest the year before. It seemed a very professional job! Rather than collect the eggs I left them and I am very glad I did as a couple of days later I decided to film them for my photo records and found a whole lot more..
Organically raise coturnix quail nest

..and not only that but as I was filming, this happened - pretty much a friendly but proprietary gesture by one of my other quail

Organically raised coturnix quail guarding a nest of eggs

..and then two days later, Ginger took charge and began to sit.

My organic coturnix quail incubating eggs

There are now thirteen eggs in all and Ginger only gets off the nest for a few minutes each day, just when she hears me open the door to bring some extra food. She is also well clamped down onto the nest, this is no mean feat as it is a large clutch, (most papers quoting an average coturnix clutch of 8 to 10 eggs).

Coturnix quail leaving its nest to feed

Meanwhile, last night, the 13th of May, I was awoken and heard Snow Queen calling to chicks, it is a very obvious call. I went back to sleep almost instantly but this morning when I took her off the nest....

Organic coturnix quail hatching

At the moment there are three chicks and my feelings are that these are from the four eggs I took from Ginger's first abandoned nest, as she was sitting a full two days before Snow Queen and we are now on the nineteenth day of what would have been Ginger's incubation. The chicks look like an English White and two Tuxedos but it is rather early to be certain.

I now have several questions and musings.

- the second nest (under the rosemary) is obviously a communal one, it filled up very quickly and there was that 'guarding' gesture by one of my other quail. According to research carried out by Orcutt and Orcutt*, domestic coturnix quail were observed to pair off and become monogamous during courtship, laying and brooding. Therefore, will all these eggs in the nest be fertile?

- the eggs I collected after Ginger had began to sit and put under Snow Queen, were also from quail other than Ginger, so ditto to the above.

- my understanding is female birds remain fertile from one male for at least ten days after mating. This is why, if I want to breed pure Polish, for example, I have to take my hens out of the communal forest garden and keep them away for nearly two weeks before pairing them with one of my Polish roosters/cockerels. It is now the tenth day since Fred went back home! 

- technically, even if Fred was monogamous and/or if some of the eggs in the second nest are Ginger's, we could still be expecting a further pattering of tiny claws?  

In the event that we have more chicks, I may decide to finesse them under Ginger and let another hen sit the clutch she is now incubating.

Stay tuned.

Now if you'd like to, after all the serious stuff, watch the film in super fluffy vision!

Three newly hatched organic coturnix quailThanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also maybe about joining this blog. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

All the very best,

©  Sue Cross 2015

Orcutt Scott Jr, F. and Orcutt, A. B. (1976) 'Nesting and Parental Behavior in Domestic Common Quail', The Auk, Vol. 93, No. 1, January, pp. 135-141


  1. Many thanks Sue for so generously offering your experience in this exhaustive resource, surely there are many people and feathered friends who have benefited greatly from the insights you share here.

    I'm very new to the world of quail - recently i received 24 coturnix quail from a friend who got them at a fairly large scale hatchery. My idea was to raise some for meat and then keep some as layers. Currently they are in a temporary set-up while i build a more permanent aviary in the forest - it won't be as large a foraging area as you, but at least it will be protected with forest floor, open air and no cages. I'm even hoping one of the females starts to feel broody! Let's see….We estimate they are around 7 weeks old now, so they've started to exhibit signs of adolescence.

    Because i'm in a position to be able to choose which ones to keep and perhaps foster their eventual progeny, i'm wondering about desirable characteristics when selecting both males and females. For example, i've observed that some of the males exhibit more macho characteristics, frequently attempting to mate or stir up trouble/fighting and let out their charming quail-cockrel call. Whereas there are some males who are more calm and docile, never having even attempted to mate. Out of the 11 males there's only one of the golden recessive-gene type and he's more docile. So when selecting for breeding and flock harmony, should i go for the more virile 'alpha' male to foster vitality in the layers or would the more chilled-out males still do the trick and keep the peace as well? I separated out a few of the more randy males into a different cage, but occasionally one gets a bloody head from a little spat so i take that one aside to nurse back to health as you have suggested in another post. (the sugar water does indeed do wonders!)

    Same line of questioning for the females, but for them it seems their behaviour is more subtle…. i've observed several of them that seem to have the potential for nesting (i put a nest box in their temporary set-up) and i've only seen one drama queen who refused to let anyone else take a dirt bath at the same time as her! They haven't started laying yet, but i suspect they are too crowded at the moment.

    And in an area of about 250 square feet i'm thinking of keeping 4-6 layers so should there be only 1 male or more? At this point it's very hard to tell which females are getting cozy with which males but i'm still trying to suss that out to see if there's an ideal pair in the mix.

    Many thanks again Sue, as a neophyte i feel incredibly blessed to have your words of wisdom to help get me started in a world that is quite bereft of valuable information on raising quail organically and humanely - of course the quail will teach me the rest! ;-)

    All the best,

    1. Hi Joe and thanks for your great feedback, it is much appreciated! I am just in the process of writing up an article on exactly the questions you have asked, as over the last few days I have been hatching quail both with a hen and quail. The 'journey' towards the hatch is different and every experience is new and this last one was no exception. I have written it up and there are just the images to upload and a film to go with it. The written article should be out later today or tomorrow.

      Re: your question about the males, I do go into this in the article but it sounds like you need a male somewhere in between! However, this does not mean he is not already in your flock and just needs time to develop. You also might want to read up on the fatal gene in golden quail, I have written something on it here As you will see when you read my new article, nothing is fixed in stone and so much of what is written about quail is 'cut and paste' and based on keeping them in tiny spaces on an unsuitable diet. Unfortunately therefore, sharing nothing of the experience of what quail can do when given a suitable environment. Good on you for choosing a different path! All the very best and if my article doesn't answer your questions or throws up more, which is what this site hopefully is all about, then please get back to me, Sue

  2. quick update - after i wrote that post i went out to check on them and lo and behold, their first egg. Good job ladies!

    1. Great news! Next thing to look for is nesting behaviour, the quail should start to pair off once you have the space. All the best, Sue