Happy Hatchday

Last Friday husband Steve noticed that the big pot outside of our front door had been transformed into a nursery. Sheltered by the French lavender, a Gambel’s Quail couple had made a nest for about a dozen eggs.  Two years ago, one of the pots on our back patio was home to a similar family, and we watched it for weeks, anticipating the birth day. This year we didn’t have long to wait.

The eggs hatched the next day, and one by one, the tiny fluff balls hopped to the lip of the pot and threw themselves over. It’s a big pot – three feet high – but these two-inch babies didn’t hesitate to leap and no one appeared to be hurt on impact. After a minute of confused scrambling, they ran to meet Mom, who was calling to them from a bush. With our kitchen under construction, workmen were coming and going through the front door, until we noticed the father quail frantically herding his chicks to the side. After that the door was closed for the couple hours it took for the family to move on.

These quail are a good example of precocial birds. Precocial (the word shares its root with precocious) birds emerge of the egg at least partially self-sufficient, in contrast to altricial birds, who are naked and helpless at hatch. Gambel’s Quail still need their parents for protection, but they can run and find their own food immediately after birth. It’s not an easy childhood, though.

Gambel’s Quail are monogamous, and I’d like to think this is the same pair we hosted two years ago, although probably not. The front door was a superior nesting site compared to the patio, because the bushes across the front of the house provide cover. Two years ago, the chicks born on our patio made a perilous dash across the pool deck to join their parents, a display that caught the attention of the neighborhood grackles. I watched, horrified, as a grackle flew to their hiding spot, strutted boldly in and flew away with a chick in his bill. By the next morning, the family had moved on, but there were still nine chicks left in the pot.

Chicks have one opportunity to leave the nest and join their parents out in the world. Late hatchers and the timid get left behind, and unless they are lucky and are rescued, they die. Fortunately, we were watching over them and we located a wildlife rehabilitator in the neighborhood who took them under her wing. All but one survived to grow up and get released on South Mountain. I love happy endings!

This year seemed to go much better, although dangers lurk for the first weeks. Our brood is down to six. One of our workmen witnessed a woodpecker snatch a baby and fly off to a tree yesterday.

Unfortunately, my camera was in the shop getting its nails done on hatching day, so the baby book is incomplete. But I got it back yesterday, and this morning I caught Dad with the brood, moving around the yard looking for bugs. If they stick around I’ll post more photos as they grow up.

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