Quail, the common name of several genera of the partridge division of gallinaceous birds. The American quails constitute the subfamily of odontophorinoe or ortyginoe, which have a short, high, and arched bill, compressed on the sides, with obtuse tip, the upper overhanging the lower mandible, and the latter with two teeth on each side concealed when the mandibles are closed; the wings moderate, concave, and rounded; tarsi generally slender, shorter than the middle toe, and covered with divided scales; toes long, the inner shorter than the outer; claws slightly curved and acute. In the genus ortyx (Steph.) the head is without crest, the bill broad, the third quill nearly as long as the fourth, fifth, and sixth, which are longest; tail short, broad, and rounded; toes slender, slightly united at the base by membrane; hind toe moderate and slightly elevated. There are about a dozen species, found in North and Central America and in the West Indies; they seek their food on the ground among the leaves, eating grains, seeds, berries, and insects, which they swallow with small pebbles or fine sand.
The common quail, or Bob White (0. Virginianus, Bonap.), is about 10 in. long, with an alar extent of 15 in.; the general color above is brownish red, especially on the wing coverts, tinged with gray and mottled with dusky on the upper back; chin, throat, forehead, and lines through the eyes and along the sides of the neck, white; a black band across the top of the head, extending backward on the sides, and from the bill below the eyes crossing on the lower part of the throat; below white, tinged with brown anteriorly, each feather with black bands; the female has not the black marks, and the white on the head is replaced by brownish yellow. It is abundant in the eastern United States to the high central plains; the northern birds are largest and lighter colored, the southern with more black on the head, wings, and back; a smaller and more grayish variety in Texas has been separated as a species. The flight is rapid, low, and with numerous quick flappings. It takes to trees when alarmed, a flock dispersing in all directions and afterward coming together at the call of the leader.
The males are very pugnacious, and in the breeding season utter the well known notes, "Ah Bob White," the first syllable rather low, but the others loud and clear; by some these notes are thought to resemble "more wet," and are therefore regarded as omens of rainy weather. The eggs are 10 to 18, pure white; the young run about as soon as hatched, but follow the old birds till spring, when they acquire their full plumage, pair, and breed; only one brood is raised in a season. They rest on the ground at night, arranged in a circle with their heads outward, so that each can fly off in a straight line, if alarmed, without interfering with the others; they are easily caught in snares and traps or driven into nets; they are difficult to raise from the egg, chiefly on account of the impossibility of obtaining the insects on which the young feed, but adults fatten well in captivity, eating grain, seeds, and berries; their flesh toward autumn is fat, juicy, and tender, white and highly esteemed; many perish from cold and hunger and from being imprisoned under the snow during severe winters.
There is great confusion about the name of this bird; it is called quail in the northern states, but in the middle and southern partridge; where the former name prevails the ruffed grouse is called partridge, and where the latter this grouse is styled pheasant; as neither the name quail, partridge, nor pheasant is properly given to any American bird, Mr. Baird proposes to call this species Bob White, and the other mountain grouse. - The genus lophortyx (Bonap.) has a crest of about half a dozen lengthened feathers, the shafts in the same vertical plane and the recurved webs overlapping each other; the bill weak; tail lengthened and graduated, of 12 stiff feathers, and nearly as long as the wings. Here belongs the beautiful California quail (L. Cali-fornicus, Bonap.), about 9 1/2 in. long, with back and wings olivaceous brown, the secondaries and tertiaries edged with buff; breast and neck above plumbeous, the imbricated feathers on the latter with an edge and middle stripe of black; top of head brown, and crest black; throat black edged with white.
This takes the place of the Bob White in California and Oregon. - The European quail belongs to the genus coturnix (Möhr.) of the partridge subfamily; in this the bill is short, elevated at the base and arched to the obtuse tip; wings moderate, with the second to the fourth quills the longest; tail very short, pendant, and mostly hidden by the coverts. There are about 20 species, scattered over Europe, Asia, and Australia, migrating in large flocks to warm regions in winter; some prefer cultivated districts, among tufts of grass, others rocky places, and others elevated table lands; the food and habits are as in other partridges. The European quail (C. communis, Bonn.) is 8 in. long, with an alar extent of 14 in.; the upper parts are variegated with reddish gray and brownish black, with whitish longitudinal streaks; throat of male dark brown, and a double interrupted black band on the fore neck; throat of female yellowish gray; head completely feathered, with a white streak over the eyes. It is abundant in southern Europe, India, and N. Africa; it was well known to the ancients, who employed it as a fighting bird for their amusement.
The notes of the male, especially in moonlight nights in summer, are very clear and pleasing, and have acquired for it the specific name of dactyloso-nans. The Chinese quail (C. Chinensis, Edw.) is a smaller species, used in the East Indies as a fighting bird, and also for warming the owners' hands in winter. - The turnicinoe or bush quails of the old world have a moderate and usually straight bill, short wings, and tail almost concealed by the dorsal feathers; tarsi strong; toes usually three, long, and free at the base. In the genus turnix (Bonn.) the bill is curved, the tertials shorter than the primaries, and the first, second, and third quills equal and longest. There are more than 20 small species found in southern Europe, India and its islands, Africa, Madagascar, and Australia; they frequent open places near rivers, keeping near the ground when flying, and running rapidly among the grasses; the eggs are usually four. The T. pugnax (Lath.) of Java has the body varied with reddish black and white, beneath streaked with white and black, and throat black.
Common Quail (Ortyx Virginianus).
California Quail (Lophortyx Californicus).
European Quail (Coturuix communis).