Colours of Coturnix Japonica Quail Part Two - The Golden

My understanding is that the Golden quail I have belong to the two main types of 'Golds', which in English are known as the Italian and the Manchurian. However,  as discussed in previous articles, some breeders insist that these are alternate names for the same golden bird! Whatever your belief, there are nuances due to patterns and markings (see the 'Italian Speckled' female below), which do seem to merit their own specific nomenclature. Equally important, is the vexed question of genetics in the golden colouring of fur and feathers; i.e. the yellow allele, which is lethal when homozygous but more of this later.

Golden Speckled Italian Female Quail

In France, life is much simpler and all the golden quail are just known under the one name of 'Isabelle', a colour which came into being due to an oath taken by Queen Isabella of Spain. Legend has it that during the siege of Granada in 1492, the Queen declared that she wouldn't change her court dress until the battle was over and Granada was back under Spanish rule. By the end of the siege, the Queen's dress had taken on colours associated with the heat and dust of the battlefield, rust red, white and black. To commemorate the event, the colour known as Isabelle was established and is a recognised standard for cats (apparently only female felines can attain this particular shade), horses, dogs and quail. As all the original Golden quail in France, are said to descend from a small clutch of 20 eggs brought over from Portugal via Spain, this may also explain its use as a colour here.

Golden Italian Female Quail


The Lethal Yellow Allele

Most things associated with genetics are liable to make my eyes glaze over but I'll have a go all the same. It's important for me to try to understand this because it begs the question on both whether or not there are two types of golden quail and furthermore, on how safe or otherwise it is to breed golden to golden. My understanding of this allele is that it produces a plumage that is 'wheat-straw yellow'. In addition, this is a dominant mutation which is lethal when the embryo has two identical alleles for this trait, which can be expressed as YY. I believe this was discovered, as many genetic expressions have been, by extrapolation from abnormal birth ratios. Thus, in studies looking at mice the allele for yellow fur (Y) is dominant over that for grey (y) so when a pair of yellow furred heterozygous mice (Yy), (thus having non-identical alleles for their yellow colour), get together, they are expected to produce a much greater ratio of yellow baby mice to grey and the fact that they don't is because the YY mice babies do not survive to birth.  

Golden Quail Chicks Coturnix Japonica

This might explain why many breeders seem to have no problem producing golden chicks but there are umpteen academic papers on how Manchurian golden quail do have problems. To me therefore it would seem logical that there are two distinctively different breeds of Golden quail. Convincing or not, this is what my so-called Italian golden quail chicks (including the Italian Speckled variation) look like and why I am wary of crossing my Manchurian females with Manchurian males

Italian Gold

The Golden Italian is the name used for golden plumage, lightly speckled mainly on the back and sides with rust, white and black. The males have a Zorro type mask that gets more distinctive as they get older and also in the breeding season, whereas the females have black speckled markings in bands around the back and sides of the head, emanating Cleopatra-like from the corners of the eye.

The other interesting trait of the Goldens, is that they were the first of all my quail to make nests, go broody and sit eggs. Logic dictated, that once we had provided both suitable nourishment and environment it would have been my  brown Pharaoh quail, which would have done this first, being nearer to the wild European version. Furthermore, it was my Golden quail, Tuxedo and English White that were the first to form monogamous pairs. Below is my beautiful Golden Italian Quail with a Rosetta Tuxedo and English White chick.

Golden Italian Female Quail  Coturnix Japonica

Below is one of my Golden Italian males (actually Antonio, as I can't get away from the idea of Zorro) in full Summer colours.

Golden Italian Male Coturnix Quail
Close up of two Italian Gold chicks.

Golden Italian Quail Chicks -  Coturnix Japonica

Golden Italian Quail Chick Sunbathing

Left: Chick Soaking up the rays and creating some valuable Vitamin D3.

Photogenic juvenile: below.

Golden Italian Quail Chick Coturnix Japonica


Italian Speckled

I have quite a few of these but mostly females. The male are almost identical to the female except for the usual golden quail brown/black mask. As with the Italian Golds, the females have distinctive dark speckled banding around the back of the head. They are incredibly striking aesthetically and again as with the other Italian Quail, in my experience they make excellent bonded pairs and really caring mothers.

Golden Italian Speckled Quails Female

Above three female Italian Speckled and an English White Male. Below a juvenile Italian Speckled.

Golden Italian Speckled Juvenile Male Quail with Sebright cross bantam
As mentioned above, it was my Golden quail which were the first to nest and become broody. However as many Goldens are bred from crossing with Pharaoh my anecdotal evidence is that crosses have strong maternal instincts. For example, Lucky (left) is a Sebright cross hen, whereas Sebrights are notoriously short-term mothers. The chick she is free-ranging and teaching how to forage is a juvenile male  Italian Speckled.

Below is a whole drift of Golden Quail including male and female Golden Italian and Speckled Italian (and Manchurian).

Golden Italian, Golden Italian Speckled and Manchurian Coturnix Quail

Below, a very affectionate Italian Speckled quail chick...

Golden Italian Speckled Coturnix Quail Chick

and our very loveable 'Golden Grandma', a 5 year old Italian Speckled female.

5 year old Golden Italian Speckled Coturnix Quail



This then would be the colour I would think of as 'wheat straw'. Here below is Alphonse in full cry and in full Summer plumage.

Manchurian Golden  Coturnix Quail Male

..and here he is again at just two and a half months old.

Manchurian Golden  Coturnix Quail Male

Manchurian Golden  Coturnix Quail Female with chicks
Left is Caramel with her chicks, once again a great mother.  Unlike two of my other golden females, she did not actually pair bond with a male. She became broody only a few days before I had an emergency with a quail hatch and she obliged by accepting the chicks. She has been the most amazingly vocal of all my quail, producing what I can only think of as wild quail calls to her chicks. She has given me great hopes that eventually the original and presumed extinct (after WWI) 'Singing' coturnix quail will return!

In Conclusion

Golden Italian Speckled  Coturnix Quail
Convinced or not, I hope I've illustrated the beauty of these Golden quail.

It was a mixture of Pharaoh and 'Isabelle' eggs which cured Andy's hay fever and eczema. The Golden quail have been instrumental in making my dreams come true, for a coturnix to raise her own chicks.

I started raising my quail with a hen, I've never used an incubator but if you are just beginning with quail and do not have a suitable bantam then maybe check out the below and see what you think. As far as I am concerned quail are wonderful little birds and a joy to keep, whatever the colour!

All the very best from Normandie and please feel free to share, comment or ask questions about this article.  Until next time when I will be discussing English White and Tuxedo, Sue


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© 2018 Sue Cross

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