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June is always a busy month for nestling and fledgling birds in the Orphan Care Unit. This year, 33 California quail chicks arrived from cities across Los Angeles and southern Ventura counties, including Saugus, Glendale, Santa Clarita, Calabasas, Silver Lake, Moorpark and Westlake Village.
Most of the chicks had been orphaned, three had foot injuries which were treated by our veterinarian, and one was grabbed by a house cat, but luckily unharmed.
Quail are born precocial, meaning they are covered in downy feathers, are able to walk and can feed themselves. This is unlike most birds who are born blind, featherless and helpless.
Quail hatchlings still require care from their parents to lead them to food and keep them safe and warm. When they arrive at CWC's OCU, the chicks are usually placed in an incubator for a few days. Even though they have feathers, they aren't great at thermoregulating or keeping themselves warm, yet.
Since young quail are able to feed themselves, they are given a varied diet comparable to what they would eat in the wild, consisting of mealworms, dried flies and seeds. The chicks are placed with quail patients of similar age and size, so they don't have to be alone, and they can learn from each other. Quail usually have 12 to 16 chicks at a time.
As quail mature, their adult feathers start to come in, and they begin to grow their characteristic top knot. Once they are old enough, the quail graduate from the OCU to an outdoor enclosure for the final stage of rehabilitation before they return to the wild. Once outside, they are usually ready for release in a few weeks.
Despite being our State Bird, California quail are also found in the Pacific Northwest, Baja California and parts of Utah, Nevada and Idaho.
They prefer chaparral, scrub and desert habitats. They are ground nesters and spend most of their time foraging for seeds and insects in dirt and under bushes rather than in trees.
Quail are especially vulnerable to domestic cats since they spend so much time on the ground. You can help keep birds safe by keeping your cat indoors.
If you find a baby bird on the ground who can run around and is covered with short fuzzy down, they are likely a quail or similar species. The parents fly off when people approach. Leave the immediate area and watch to see if a parent will come back. You should contact your local licensed rehabilitator (CWC: 310-458-9453) if:
- The parents are known to be dead
- The bird is injured
- A pet or a child has brought the bird in from places unknown
If you are instructed to bring the bird to a rehabber, get a box with air holes and line it with crumpled paper on the bottom. Pick up the baby bird by the body and place them in the box. Do not offer any food or water. Seal the box and keep it in a quiet, dark location (for example, a bathroom) until the bird can be transferred to the rehabilitator. Set a heating pad on medium under the box.
California Wildlife Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides medical and rehabilitative care to more than 4,300 sick, injured and orphaned native California animals every year. To donate, click here.