Forgotten Hill Bed & Breakfast

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Naramata, B.C

Pretty, cute, and not so dumb.

Starting in early April there are quails everywhere on Cottonwood Estate, where Forgotten Hill B&B is located. At first there are only adult quails. The females walk around clucking softly while the males call loudly. To my ears, many of the males seem to be calling “McGregor! McGregor! McGregor!”; which gives me the impression that they’re hocking McGregor socks… But that’s just what I hear. Not All of them are calling out a brand of socks. Some others, to me, sound as though they’re calling out the Punjabi greeting “Sat Sri Akal!” In view that this greeting loosely translates to “God is the ultimate truth”, if I am hearing correctly, this would imply some quails have a devout bent…

Quails are not the most observant of birds; in fact they seem to be quite absent-minded. As they walk around, pecking at this and that, they meander into all sorts of places where a less absent-minded bird would never venture. Leave a door open, and it’s quite possible that one or more will walk through it. Similarly, if someone is sitting in a chair outside, or even standing still, they’ll walk right up next to them without ever realizing that they are inches away from a scary human. Make a move however, and bedlam ensues as they run to and fro in total panic. But, in all cases, it’s only when running is insufficient to escape the horrible fate they’re convinced awaits them, that they’ll take to the air. Fact is, they fly only marginally better than a chicken. And, when they do fly, it’s accompanied by a great flapping of short pointy wings for a short distance, immediately followed by a glide to the nearest safe landing spot on solid ground.

A female quail with her young.

As of April, the unusual warning signs planted along our road make sense. We planted them there because it has happened that a quail got run-over by a vehicle. The quails literally run right out in front of vehicles on our road, running ahead, trying to outdistance the oncoming vehicle. For evolutionary reasons that are beyond me, these birds run in a way that maintains their body  at a constant level above the road surface while their legs are moving so fast that they blur. Moreover, while running, they glance back to keep an eye on the vehicle gauging the success of their death-defying tactic. To further confuse the enemy, their run angles left and right in a zigzag, giving the observer the impression that they are in a complete but extremely comical panic. The whole thing is so over the top that one can’t help but smile while watching them trying to escape their perceived fate.

By late spring, hatchlings start to accompany their parents wherever they  go. The new hatchlings are only covered in down and, at first, are remarkably tiny, barely an inch high off the ground. When the parents cross the road, surrounded by their young, the hatchlings look like more like a bunch of semi-colons than anything else. But, amazingly, these punctuation marks are all able to run at the same phenomenal speed as their parents.

A female quail covering her young with her wings.

Interestingly, the quails are remarkably protective of their young. If a family group is near the edge of the road, but in no imminent danger, and a car comes along, the male will nevertheless run out in front of the car and start running down the road ahead of the vehicle in an attempt to have the “predator” chase after him instead of going after the brood. At first the behaviour looks bizarre, but when understood, the male quail becomes quite chivalrous, or gallant, risking its life to protect its females and offsprings. Frankly, there are some humans out there who could learn a lesson or two from the quails’ behaviour.

It’s not only the males that are protective, the females are the same. When they perceive a danger, their young will gather around the mother, and she’ll cover them with her wings to hide them while fluffing-up her feathers. This protective behaviour is evident from the late spring and until early fall, as the quails have many offsprings.

So, while the quails antics look to be silly at first blush, they are one of the most interesting birds in the Okanagan. Regrettably many people derisively state that they are the dumbest bird around. But, in my opinion, are some of the most courageous and smartest ones.

Curious about the sounds the quails make? Take a look at the videos below: