Quails are small, ground-dwelling birds with rounded bodies, and some have cute tufts above their heads, called head plumes or topknots! There are many different species of quails divided between two families; the Old World quails (or true quails) from the family Phasianidae and the New World quails from the family Odontophoridae. Quails spend much of their time rummaging through the undergrowth, so what do quail eat?
Most species of quail are flexible, opportunistic feeders that eat many different plant foods as well as arthropods and invertebrates. Therefore, quails are omnivorous. Quail forage food from the ground and eat various seeds, grasses, flowers and fruits. They also eat many insects, worms and larvae. As many as 100 species of plants are found in the Common quail’s diet!
Quail inhabit much of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and despite being ground-dwelling birds, many species are strongly migratory, travelling many miles to and from their breeding grounds each year. As gamebirds, many species of quails are bred for hunting and egg-laying, and also as pets.
Like all birds, quails have a few interesting tricks up their sleeves. Read on to discover more about these cute and beautiful birds!
Common Quails eat around 100 different plant species
All quails are flexible omnivores that consume a huge variety of plant food, insects and invertebrates.
Most quails consume more insects and invertebrates in the summer, especially in the breeding season. The high-protein kick of insects is great for rearing chicks. However, insects become scarcer in the winter, and quails begin to forage whatever foods they can find.
The Common quail, from the Old World quail group, consumes mainly plant foods, including many varieties of grasses, seeds, berries, vines, flowers, bulbs and shoots. As many as 100 plant species have been found in its diet.
The Californian quail, from the New World quail family, is similar, consuming around 70% plant food. Lotuses, clovers, lupins and other perennial and annual grasses and flowers make up most of its diet. In California, denser shrubs are eaten, such as juniper and sagebrush.
Gambel’s quail consumes around 90% plant food and just 7% insects, including cactus fruits, buds, leaves and shoots. Its diet seems consistent across much of its North American range, and in Mexico.
The Japanese and Blue-breasted quails of the Old World group also consume mainly plant matter.
Quails also eat a wide array of terrestrial insects and invertebrates, including; beetles, ants, earwigs, termites, grasshoppers, bugs, spiders, worms, larvae and molluscs. They’re not particularly fussy with what they eat, so long as they can forage it from the ground!
A pair of Gambel's Quails (Callipepla gambelii) foraging for food in the desert
It’s usually recommended that captive or pet quails are fed around 80% grains and seeds, including:
The remaining 20% should consist of vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens, fruits, meat scraps, mealworms and other dried insects.
The following vegetables are considered safe and healthy for quails:
Insects and meat scraps are essential in the breeding season, as the chicks generally need something softer than seeds. Quail chicks can also be fed starter feed, which is soft enough to digest.
California Quail (Callipepla californica) foraging for food on the ground
Baby quail cannot digest harder foods such as grains and seeds for around a week. Until then, the chicks of most species of quails consume approximately 80% to 90% invertebrates.
The parents don’t usually feed the chicks who can feed themselves after just a couple of days. While foraging, the parents will peck at various foods to instruct the chicks to eat them. Quail parents tend to be protective of their chicks and communicate with them avidly during their first two weeks.
In captivity, baby quails are generally fed a soft, high-protein starter feed.
Quail watching over chicks feeding
In the winter, quail distributed in northern regions tend to consume fewer arthropods and invertebrates, upping their intake of plant food. Insect life is less abundant in winter than it is in summer or spring - quail need to make up for it by eating more plants.
Quails usually only feed twice or three times per day in the summer, but they might spend much of their day foraging in the winter to make sure they find enough food to survive.
Whilst some quails are sedentary, many species migrate long distances, which surprises some people due to quails’ small, round and diminutive form!
In fact, true quails, including the Common quail, are perhaps the only truly migratory gamebird. Some travel hundreds or thousands of miles from Northern and Central Europe all the way to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Some species of quail in North America also head south each winter.
In more southerly regions, quail consume more or less the same foods all year round and are usually non-migratory.
A flock of quail huddled together in the winter
Quails forage their food from the ground, pecking at the ground and nearby plants and shrubs as they rummage through the undergrowth.
Whilst many quails are quite solitary, many species flock together to feed. A flock of quails is often called a bevvy for a covey.
Bevvys of around 5 to 25 birds will forage communally, meeting together twice or three times throughout the day.
Those who keep quails say that their favourite foods can tend to vary. Some almost solely gorge themselves on grains and seeds, and eat very little else.
Others love leafy vegetables and fruit. Peanuts, fruit and cracked corn are all great too.
A family of Jungle Bush Quail (Perdicula asiatica)
Quails will eat most foods, but as always, there are some foods that they should definitely avoid.
You shouldn't feed chocolate, coffee, parsley and avocado, as they are all known to cause toxicity in birds. Onions can change the taste of quail eggs, which isn’t what you want if you keep quails for their eggs.
Bread can be fed to quails, but only in small quantities. Whilst bread isn’t toxic to quails (or other birds), it has a poor nutritional profile. If you overfeed birds with bread, they won’t eat other more nutritious foods, leading to malnutrition. Feed quails a rich and well-balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains, vegetables, seeds, fruits and other supplementary foods.
Quail drink solely water. Providing fresh water in a ground bowl (rather than in a birdbath or on a bird table) is an excellent way to support ground-dwelling and ground-feeding birds, including quail.
A pair of Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) drinking water
Quail prefer dense habitats with plenty of thick foliage and hiding places. If your garden or yard is mainly lawn, it’ll be very hard to attract quail. Instead, provide plenty of thick bushes and shrubs, as well as tall grasses and flowering plants. Taller trees, logs and larger bushes provide extra shelter from above.
Instead of fencing off your garden, create entrances and exits for quail and other wildlife.
Ground feeders are a great way to feed ground-dwelling and feeding birds. Provide plenty of clean, fresh water too, especially in winter. Fill ground feeders with an array of bird feeds, leafy greens and kitchen scraps.
Lastly, quails love to take dust baths - provide them with a shallow tray of light dirt, dust and fine sand.
Quails prefer dense habitats - Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix)
Yes, quails eat many varieties of grass. Grass blades make up a sizable proportion of the Common quail’s diet, but they prefer legumes, seeds and other more nutritious plant foods.
Quails do eat fruit and berries, providing that they can access them from the ground. In captivity, quails can be fed a wide range of fruits in captivity, including apples, cherries, currants, grapes, blackberries, and more.
Yes, but mealworms are fatty and shouldn’t be overfed. Quails particularly appreciate mealworms in the breeding season as they’re highly nutritious for chicks.
Absolutely. Quails are omnivorous and eat worms, larvae, grubs and caterpillars.
Female California Quail perched
Since quail are omnivorous, they do eat meat in the form of insects, arthropods and other invertebrates.
Yes, leftover dry vegetables and meat are fine.
Rice and pasta are fine to feed quails, but they aren’t particularly nutritious.
Yes, quail eat bugs and insects of all kinds. They are omnivores.
Gambel's Quail searching for food
Absolutely, most species of quail eat ants and termites in abundance.
Yes. In fact, Bobwhite quails consume a lot of ticks which can be beneficial to farmers and livestock keepers.
The California quail eats around 70% plant foods. It is omnivorous and also eats many species of invertebrates and insects, like spiders, bugs, flies, worms, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, termites and ticks.
King Quail male (Synoicus chinensis)
The King or Blue-breasted quail predominantly eats plant foods, though it is also omnivorous.
The Jungle quail eats grass, weeds, millets and many small insects like termites, ants, and their larvae.
Common quails are omnivores and eat a wide range of invertebrates and plant matter - some studies have found that they eat over 100 different species of plants!
Gambel’s quail, who live in Arizona, eat plant shoots, leaves, flowers and buds, as well as cactus fruits and berries of various kinds. They also eat small insects.
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