Quail have always been some of my favorite birds. In high school, a friend raised them, and it was always nice to see them bobbing about on the floor of aviary. My husband and I once came across a covey in the arboretum of Golden Gate Park, which remains one of my favorite memories of the park.
Quail are shy birds, low to the ground, and easily able to hide in the brush they prefer to live in. They can fly, but not very high or far, and usually only do so when they’re startled. We have a little family group that is currently living in near the rocks by our front gate, and occasionally when we’re coming home from school, we’ll see them out for a family ramble. My daughter will whisper very quietly and excitedly, “Mom, look at the quail!” I’ll stop the car, and we’ll watch them for a bit, until they slip through the fence onto the neighbor’s property or the dog scares them and they take one of their short, low flights away.
Their distinctive call is sometimes described as sounding like “Chicago”, but I can’t believe that the California state bird would be saying that. It sounds to me more like “Ah-ha-ha!”
My most memorable encounter with this shy bird happened on the busiest road in our neighborhood. Last spring, I was driving along, grumbling at the truck following too closely behind me, when I saw some quail crossing the road just in front of me. I slowed down, no doubt enraging the guy behind me, and watched as first the male, then the female dashed across the road. Then, wonder of wonders, six tiny balls of brown fluff came along in a single file line behind their parents. I have never before and never again seen quail chicks and whenever I think of those little guys, looking for all the world like dandelions with legs, I get a smile.
I don’t know if the impatient driver behind me was smiling, but if they were too busy being angry, then they missed out on a rare moment.