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Species Of Quail, Quail And People

Quail are relatively small species of fowl in the family Phasianidae, which also includes pheasants, partridges, peafowl, turkeys, guinea fowl, and francolins.

Like other members of their family, quail have a chunky body with short, rounded wings, and a short, thick, hooked bill, in which the tip of the upper mandible hangs slightly over that of the lower. The legs and feet are stout, and are used for running as well as for scratching in the ground surface for their foods of seeds and invertebrates. Compared with other birds in the Phasianidae, quails are relatively small, short-necked birds, with a short tail, a serrated edge of the beak, and lacking spurs on the legs.

Quail are nonmigratory, terrestrial birds, inhabiting semideserts, grasslands, open woodlands, and forest edges. Quail eat berries, seeds, buds, and leaves, as well as insects and other types of invertebrates that they encounter, especially as they scratch through dirt and debris on the ground. Young quail feed especially heavily on invertebrates, because they are growing rapidly and therefore need a diet rich in proteins.

Male quail are relatively brightly patterned and are often ornamented with unusual structures that are intended to impress the female—for example, a long plume of A Gambel's quail (Lophortyx gambelii) in the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Arizona. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission. feathers on the head. In addition, male quail have strutting behavioral repertoires that are designed to excite potential mates.

These structures and behaviors are not adaptive in the conventional sense, in fact, they likely make male quail more vulnerable to being killed by predators. These special characteristics of male quail have evolved as a result of sexual selection, a force that favors individuals that are most pleasing to the females in an aesthetic sense. Other members of the Phasianidae, such as pheasants and peafowl, have evolved even more unusual reproduction-enhancing characteristics than the quails.

Most species of quail have a monogamous breeding system, in which male and female birds pair off and cooperate in breeding. This is different from many other groups in the Phasianidae, which are polygynous. Quail nest on the ground, usually beneath a shrub or in other protective cover. In some species of quails, both the female and the male brood the eggs, and both cooperate in raising the chicks. Quail chicks are precocious and can leave the nest soon after birth, following their parents and feeding themselves, mostly on insects.

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