Quails are tiny ground-dwelling gamebirds with a notoriously high annual population turnover. Sometimes as few as 10 percent of the quail population survives from one year to the next. There are six species of quail native to the U.S., but one thing they have in common is their relatively short life expectancies. So let's get into it, how long do quails live?
In the wild, quail have a lifespan of between 1 and 5 years. This varies between quail species, with the average life expectancy being between 2 and 3 years. Captive quails may live longer, due to their predator-free living conditions and access to food, water, and suitable shelter.
Captive quail generally outlive those living in the wild, and can expect to live for around 5 to 6 years. On some occasions, quails raised in captivity have lived beyond 10 years, with a number of factors affecting their ability to survive longer.
Read on to learn more about the life expectancies of various quail species, and factors that might influence the length of their lives.
The average lifespan of California quails is between 3 and 5 years both in captivity and in the wild, with the oldest individual ringed California quail in the wild recorded at 6 years and 11 months.
On average, Californian Quails live for between three and five years in the wild
Northern bobwhites have a short life expectancy in the wild, as they are targeted by a wide range of predators; around 80 percent do not survive beyond their first year. On rare occasions, banded birds have been observed to have reached a maximum of 6 years. In optimum captive conditions, the lifespan of a Northern bobwhite can extend to around 5 years.
Northern Bobwhites can live up to six years in the wild
Common quail (Coturnix coturnix), Europe’s most widespread quail species, can live for around 2 to 3 years. In captivity, common quails live for an average of 5 years. Individual birds have been recorded to have lived for a maximum of 11 years, although such examples of longevity are rare.
Common Quails usually live for up to five years in the wild
In the wild, Mountain quail have a life expectancy of between 1 and 4 years. In captivity, they can live for up to 5 years or occasionally longer.
Gambel’s quails live for an average 1.5 years; it is rare for a free-ranging bird to exceed 4 years. Captive-bred and reared birds can expect to live for 5 years or more.
Gambel's Quail have very short life expectancies, usually surviving just one and a half years in the wild
In captivity, the life expectancy of a Montezuma quail can be as long as 6 to 7 years. In the wild, however, the survival rate beyond one year is low.
One of the smallest quails, Japanese quails have a life expectancy of around 2 to 3 years in the wild. In captive conditions, this can extend to 6 years.
Japanese Quail usually live for between two and three years in the wild
On average, quails can live for between two and three years in the wild. Certain quail species and individual birds may exceed these expected life spans, but quails do have typically short lives in comparison to many other birds. This is due in part to both their size and their farmland habitats, which leave them open to predation.
In captivity, a quail can be expected to reach between 5 and 6 years. Some quail species can live considerably longer in captivity, with secure living conditions provided, adequate and balanced nutrition supplied, and health conditions well monitored and supported by specialist veterinary care.
In contrast, the lifespan of some domesticated quail that are specifically used for meat or egg production may be significantly shorter, with birds that are no longer in prime condition being culled by breeders.
A female California Quail in the wild
Compared to many bird species, quails are not especially long-lived, due mainly to metabolic factors. A quail’s fast metabolism means its health will decline rapidly if it is without food for just a matter of days.
Many wild quails die from natural causes each year. Quails are not hardy birds; cold weather may trigger hypothermia, while extreme heat may lead to fatal levels of dehydration or heat stroke.
Predation is another major cause of death, with wild quails and their eggs and young targeted by foxes, coyotes, weasels, skunks, and racoons, as well as by hawks, owls, and other birds of prey. Hunting by humans is also another leading cause of death in some parts of the world.
Death of captive quails may be caused by overbreeding, neglect, or attack or injury by enclosure mates.
A female quail lays between 6 and 16 eggs in a clutch. In their first year, quail hens lay an average of 200 eggs, but productivity drops in the second and subsequent years.
Eggs are incubated for between 17 and 24 days depending on the type of quail, and in the wild, males may share brooding duties. Soon after hatching, the chicks are able to walk and leave the nest to forage for food with their parents. Both males and females protect and care for the hatchling for the first month. After two weeks, chicks are able to fly, and by four weeks are considered fully independent.
Quails reach maturity at around 6 weeks of age, and can breed from between 50 and 60 days after hatching.
The chick of a Northern Bobwhite
In the wild, predators of quails vary according to geographical location. In the United States, coyotes, skunks, and raccoons are responsible for a large number of quail deaths. The leading threats to wild quails in the UK include birds of prey. Hawks and owls hunt for quails and will also raid nests for chicks and eggs.
Humans are also among the biggest threats to wild quail populations around the world, with quail hunting a popular sport in many regions of the United States, although regulations do exist that aim to limit the impact on quail population numbers.
King quails have been recorded to live for 13 years in captivity. A banded California quail in the wild was observed to have reached 6 years and 11 months, and a banded Bobwhite quail, was recorded in 2014 at 5.5 years of age, both of which rank as noteworthy examples of long-lived wild individuals for their species.
In captivity, King Quails have been recorded of living thirteen years
Quails have a particularly fast metabolic rate and need to eat regularly in order to remain in good health. If not properly fed, a quail can starve to death within three days.
The low body weight and fast metabolic system of quails makes winters a particularly challenging time for these fragile gamebirds. Harsh winters, when food resources for wild quails are in short supply, have a major impact on the number of pheasants surviving into the following spring.
Captive quails are better equipped to withstand these conditions, with provision of artificial heat sources when temperatures drop and adequate food supplies all year round.
A quail in the snow, during the winter
Conservation status of quails varies according to species and region. Northern bobwhites are classified as near threatened, with declining population numbers throughout the United States. In the UK, the Common quail is on the Amber List, meaning its status is of moderate concern due to a decline in populations, and is protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Habitat loss and hunting have caused significant decline of populations of various quail species around the world. The Himalayan quail is critically endangered, possibly even extinct, and the New Zealand quail was declared extinct in 1875.
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