Soft whispering of quail a sign property has come a long way
I could hear the whispers and it sounded juicy.
If only I understood quail.
It was an intimate moment with nature like I had never experienced before.
Sitting motionless at the edge of the flowerbed I was listening in to the whispered conversations of feeding quail just a few feet away.
The murmurings were hushed, almost inaudible.
I’ve written before about the “muttering army” of quail that pass my bedroom window at dawn as they emerge from native cover and march to a nearby seed feeder. Their not-so-subtle cooing then is an almost daily alarm clock.
This was the same sound, but I could almost not hear it. Had there been a wind or other noise the sounds would have vanished. The feeding quail were obviously close to each other with no need to be speaking loudly.
This became an impromptu sit-and-see moment.
I was out enjoying the morning sun and had pulled up a chair to watch a spotted towhee as he bounced around in a nearby tree while singing his characteristic three sharp notes and a trill.
That’s when I noticed movement in the low thicket of blooming marguerites and then heard the soft sounds of the quail not more than 10 feet from me.
Suddenly a feathered head popped up and there was more rustling movement followed by glimpses of quail skittering through the shrubbery.
Quail have a strong social bond, and apparently this was a covey softly chatting with each other as they looked for seeds that had fallen from a feeder hanging above.
I sat very still for fear of spooking them and enjoyed the muted bird whispers and occasional peek as heads would pop up above the plants.
Perhaps sensing my presence or just being typically protective, one male jumped up on a nearby rock to act as a lookout. I sat very still so he would not sound an alarm to warn his companions.
Soon the covey moved on, and the quail whispers faded with them.
They will be back because they spend a better part of most days enjoying my seed feeders, poking around in the flower gardens or drinking from the small clay saucer I keep always filled with water with a drip irrigation line.
It wasn’t always this way.
When we came to Mt. Whoville about 16 years ago, it was a bare, graded lot where we would build our home. It’s a narrow, hogback ridge, about a mile long and 200 feet wide, sloping off into native vegetation.
Our goal was to create a wildlife “country club,” where the native critters could come to enjoy dependable sources of food, water, shelter and nesting sites.
We started with nectar and seed feeders that attracted hummingbirds and the regulars like house finches, scrub jays, dove and towhees.
Rabbits quickly adopted us. They loved our tender new plants until we shifted to native shrubs and things they didn’t like.
I knew quail were in the surrounding chaparral thickets but could never seem to get them to come out to feed.
That changed as the landscaping matured.
Quail are ground feeders, and they are also prey to marauding Cooper’s hawks. They need places to hide if a hawk shows up looking for a meal.
As our gardens and shrubs matured, I placed feeders and water near cover, and that’s when quail felt comfortable enough to share our ridgetop.
The quail and I have become pretty good friends. They still don’t talk to me, but they no longer explode in panic when I walk out of the house.
Now, they just stop and watch to see what I am going to do. If I walk too close, they will quietly move away.
These plump little birds are daily visitors now, starting with my morning wake-up call and I’ve even caught them on my game camera just after dark as they drink at the opossum pond.
They are comfortable enough to bring their tiny, incredibly cute new chicks in to drink several times a day in early summer. I am looking forward to the next crop of youngsters that resemble striped, fuzzy walnuts with skinny legs.
I talk to my quail.
If they are in the yard when I walk outside, I explain softly that I’m just going to the car to get something or put out the trash and “not to worry.”
I listen as they talk, but so far, I can’t figure out what they are saying. About the only thing I get is something about “Chi-ca-go.”
It’s probably just as well.
I’m sure they’re talking about me.
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