The common quail (Coturnix coturnix Linnaeus, 1758) is a bird belonging to the Phasianidae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Species C. coturnix.
The term is basionym:
– Tetrao coturnix Linnaeus, 1758.
The terms are synonymous:
– Coturnix communis Bonnaterre;
– Coturnix vulgaris Fleming.
Coturnix coturnix presents great genetic variability due to its large geographical distribution and the presence of isolated sedentary populations. Various subspecies have therefore been described, of which five are currently recognized as valid:
– Coturnix c. coturnix (Linnaeus, 1758), the nominal subspecies, widely distributed from Europe to the central-eastern regions of Russia and to Mongolia, in the east, and to north-western Africa and the northern and central regions of India, perhaps also to Bangladesh, to the south; it winters mainly in the Sahel belt in Africa and in the central and southern regions of India;
– Coturnix c. conturbans Hartert, 1917, endemic to the Azores and characterized by darker plumage than that of the nominal subspecies, but with lighter upper parts than C. c. African;
– Coturnix c. inopinata Hartert, 1849, very similar to the previous one and endemic to the Cape Verde islands;
– Coturnix c. africana Temminck and Schlegel, 1849, widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, in Mauritius, in the Comoros islands and in Madagascar; it is very similar to the nominate subspecies, but has a darker back.
– Coturnix c. erlangeri Temminck, 1912, widespread in the eastern regions of Africa, from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe; it is the darkest subspecies of all. Males have a red face, throat and underparts.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Coturnix coturnix is a migratory bird with a wide geographical distribution.
This species breeds in central and southern Europe, western Asia and north-western Africa, in an area that also includes the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, northern Egypt, Israel and northern Iraq and Iran. In Asia, the nesting area extends to Lake Baikal, the foothills of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, western China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, northeast India, Nepal, to Bhutan, western Assam and northern Bangladesh. Migrants reach Egypt, Libya, equatorial Africa up to northern Kenya, Angola, Zambia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the northern half of India. Some of the birds that winter in North Africa are already capable of breeding before reaching Europe. The species has also been introduced on the island of Mauritius.
This bird makes long journeys but unlike other migratory birds it does not follow the same routes every year and can even change its nesting or wintering areas. The males migrate before the females to take possession of the territories, from which they chase away their rivals by singing.
This bird, however, moves from the African wintering area to the nesting areas following three main migratory routes.
The first comes from the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Morocco and the western coasts of Algeria, up to the Iberian peninsula and, subsequently, to France, Germany, Scandinavia and England.
The second takes place from the eastern coasts of Algeria, from Tunisia and Libya towards Italy, then continuing towards the Danubian plains and Russia.
Finally, a third route runs from Egypt to the Balkan Peninsula, Eastern Europe and parts of East Asia.
For their part, populations that breed in Central Asia travel to the Indian subcontinent.
In Italy its range is somewhat fragmented, but it appears to be quite protected, despite being threatened in some locations.
Its habitat is generally that of flat or slightly undulating terrain less than a thousand meters above sea level, although it can reach up to an altitude of 1800 meters in some valleys of the Alps and even to higher altitudes in the Himalayas. However, it prefers meadows, cereal fields (wheat, barley, oats, rye), as well as expanses of alfalfa, fresh soils and, in the most inaccessible areas, steppes.
The Coturnix coturnix is a galliform bird with a length of about 18 cm and a weight ranging between 70 and 120 g, with a small and round body, extremely short tail, long and pointed wings.
It has a dark brownish color and does not present any noteworthy plumage character, except for the whitish streaks of the sides and the black facial pattern of the male. The upper part is brown with black and yellow-cream streaks that form two more or less pale bands. The underparts are cream-colored and the throat is whitish framed by dark bands.
The chest is spotted with black only in the female.
The throat is black in the male and yellowish in the female.
Three yellowish stripes cover the top of the head. The tail which, as mentioned, is extremely short, accentuates the impression of its massive silhouette.
The eggs vary in color from dirty white to creamy yellow with dark brown spots or patches. Their average dimensions are 30 mm × 23 mm with a weight of 8 g.
His singing is typical of the European countryside, recognized by many and also taken up in the musical literature of great musicians. The male one can be heard quite well while the female one, which can be transcribed as piou-pioup, is much more discreet and is often confused with the song of crickets and grasshoppers.
The Coturnix coturnix is a stubborn nester and if its brood is destroyed, the quail can lay a second or even a third.
This bird builds its nest on the ground, among the dense vegetation, usually among the tall grass or fields of cereals, alfalfa or oilseed plants, where it eats the seeds that have fallen to the ground, safe from predators. As soon as the male has established his own territory and the female has chosen a place to nest, a pair is formed.
The female responds to the male’s song with her own song, attracting him towards her. The male approaches the female and circles her with ruffled plumage and drooping wings, cooing softly. After this nuptial parade, very similar to that of pigeons, the birds are united and mate. The bonds that unite the pairs last throughout the nesting season; males and females often sing together.
The reproductive period is between May and July but can continue until the end of August.
The female forms a superficial incision in the ground, 7–13.5 cm in diameter, sparsely covered with vegetation.
Here the female lays one egg a day for about 10 days and then incubates them for about 18 days. The male does not take part in incubation. Baby quail can fly at the age of three weeks and are ready to leave for migration at two months.
Ecological Role –
The Coturnix coturnix are excellent fliers, despite the fact that they are mainly land birds and the return to winter quarters begins with the arrival of autumn, and is preceded by considerable movements, perhaps nomadic, from one area to another. True migration occurs along the same spring patterns, but in general quail show less haste and tend to follow the longest possible land routes, with frequent stops in between.
Non-migratory populations exist in southern Africa, the Maghreb, eastern Africa and inland India.
It is notoriously difficult to see, remains hidden among crops and is reluctant to fly, preferring instead to crawl away. Even when glimpsed, it stays low and soon returns to cover. Often the only indication of its presence is the characteristic repetitive song of the male. The call is pronounced mainly in the morning, in the evening and sometimes at night.
Unfortunately, this bird is intensively hunted as game during its passage through the Mediterranean area. Large numbers of them are caught in nets along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. An estimated 3.4 million birds were caught in North Sinai during the autumn migration in 2012, and perhaps as many as 12.9 million across Egypt.
This species has seen an increase in its propagation in recent years in the United States and Europe. However, most of this increase affects hobbyists. It is declining in some parts of its range such as Ireland.
If this bird eats certain plants, although which plant is still up for debate, quail meat can be poisonous, with one in four who consume poisonous meat becoming ill with coturnism, which is characterized by muscle pain and can lead to illness kidney and other symptoms.
As regards its conservation status, some estimates suggest that the global population of quail in the wild can reach the incredible number of 15-35 million adult individuals, qualifying them as one of the most common winged birds in the world. Consequently, it is considered by the IUCN as a «species of minimal concern» (Least Concern). The setting up of industrial farms for food production and hybridization with the congener Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), which is slightly larger in size, has expanded the presence of this bird, now a hybrid species, on all continents. In recent decades, quail have shown significant reductions in numbers, mainly due to changes in agricultural methods and the type of crops.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– C.Battisti, D. Taffon, F. Giucca, 2008. Atlas of nesting birds, Gangemi Editore, Rome.
– L. Svensson, K.Mullarney, D. Zetterstrom, 1999. Guide to the Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Near East, Harper Collins Publisher, United Kingdom.