quail in the garden

A large part of my enjoyment in the garden comes from watching and listening to its animal life. I can sit for long periods watching squirrels eating seeds out of my sunflowers or just listening to the sound of a woodpecker boring holes in the walnut tree. Though with the exception of my chickens (who I realize I haven't said much about lately) and the occasional lizard, I don't usually stop to photograph or write about my animal observations. I guess because animal-watching tends to be a very quiet "in the moment" kind of meditation for me.

My kids are also really into animal identification and observation. Last summer I made them "animal logs" for tallying what they could find in our yard. Our garden is fenced but right outside it's commonplace to see deer, hare, and coyotes.  Inside the yard there are squirrels, lizards and a wide variety of birds. One of my favorites to watch are the quails. There is a male-female couple who I've been observing for quite awhile. They have a very touching and protective relationship and go everywhere together; I've never seen one without the other very close by.

One of the first things I learned from watching them was that the plume on their heads is actually six individual feathers. It surprised me that it was always six and not a variable amount. When I'm gardening they are sociable companions and I like listening to their chattering pips. I also love to watch them take their "dust baths" by burrowing into the dirt and ruffling their feathers just like the chickens do. I'm not sure why it's so entertaining, but this–and their high speed run–just make me laugh.

Unfortunately the one downside of the quail is that they love to eat my young seedlings (arugula is one of their favorites) so I've had to use netting to keep them out of some areas. But now that we've worked out our boundaries, we are coexisting quite nicely. I'm glad to be growing food for them and having their company in return.

Update 7 July 09: About a week afer writing this I spied the whole quail brood with lots of tiny new chicks! They are extremely cute but unfortunately I haven't been able to get near enough to take a decent photo.

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