Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Quail up close

Common Quail favours weedy grasslands and fields, but can be very difficult to see.
For those enjoying BBC Radio 4's current Tweet of the Day series, I thought I'd share are a few images of today's chosen species: Common Quail Coturnix coturnix. It's a good candidate for a programme which aims to help listeners discover British birds through their songs and calls, as you're far more likely to hear this diminutive gamebird than see it in the field.

When giving its distinctive call, a repeated qwip-qwip, the male puffs its chest out and throws its head back.
Other than when accidentally flushed, many observers rarely see Common Quail in the open, and find it especially difficult to get clear, prolonged views. That's my typical experience in Britain too, but in the Azores, where I took these images, the species can be easier to see.


This male from the Azores is dark faced, as is the bird behind, but this feature is quite variable.
That may partly be down to numbers, as Common Quail is well distributed in the islands. The subspecies in the archipelago, conturbans (sometimes included within confisa), is slightly darker than nominate coturnix and closer to africana, though with paler upperparts (see Madge and McGowan 2002).

At dusk, when these next three photos were taken, Common Quail sometimes venture out to more open ground to feed.
The first three photos in this selection were taken on Terceira in May, and the second three on the same island in October. The repeated qwip-qwip advertising call is not just confined to spring, often giving away the species' presence in autumn too.

A wing-stretch shows that this individual was quite relaxed when I took these image ...
On the forthcoming tour this October, I'll again be visiting the area where I took these images, hoping to get the group some clear views - a number of participants have added Common Quail as a life bird there, and doubtless more will do so in future. In the meantime, if you need a refresher as to the evocative sound of this secretive species, catch Tweet of the Day this morning or on iPlayer; there'll also be an article in the next (July) issue of Birdwatch magazine profiling the species and sites to see it in Britain.

... it then gave prolonged views in the open with up to 10 others, a sight impossible to imagine in Britain.

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