Broad Leys books for smallholders, homesteaders, poultry keepers and organic gardeners

Broad Leys Publishing - Poultry and Smallholding Books
specialists in books for smallholders, homesteaders, poultry keepers and organic gardeners

KEEPING QUAIL: A Guide to Domestic & Commercial Management.KEEPING QUAIL: A Guide to Domestic & Commercial Management.

An extract from the 3rd edition of the book by Katie Thear
published by Broad Leys Publishing Ltd
PLEASE NOTE this is from the 3rd Edition

Coturnix Quail


Female Coturnix quail.
(Photo: Katie Thear)




Coturnix Quail

This is the most common type in captivity worldwide. It is essentially the same bird that the Ancient Egyptians knew and that Mrs. Beeton would have recognised as one of the "feathered game which have from time immemorial given gratification to the palate of man". When reference is made to 'quail' in general, this is the bird in question. In Europe, it has been known as Common quail, European quail and Mediterranean quail.

The old English names, 'wet-my-lips' or 'wet-my-feet', are reference to its familiar call. The name Pharaoh's quail is linked to its Egyptian origins, while in the USA, early settlers referred to it as German quail, no doubt because German settlers brought it with them. Eurasian quail is a reminder of its considerable geographical distribution. Other names used in the past are Nile and Mediterranean quail.

Quails have been developed and to a certain extent domesticated, although the word 'domesticated' is used advisedly for they are still essentially 'wild' in their form and behaviour, and are of course, designated as game birds. Although selective breeding has taken place to produce egg laying strains or birds more suited to the table, the development is nowhere near as marked as it is with domestic fowl.

No-one can know for certain how the various breeds and sub-species developed, but it is generally acknowledged that the Coturnix types are based on the Common European quail, Coturnix coturnix, Pharaoh or Eurasian quail, Coturnix communis, and Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica. The latter was first recognised in the nineteenth century as a separate breed in the wild, although it had been bred by the Japanese as a singing bird as early as the 12th century. In recent years, the Japanese have developed more productive commercial strains for the table, and for the laboratory, which are also called Japanese quail. Selectively bred laying strains developed from C. coturnix, C. communis and C. japonica are often impossible to distinguish. For convenience, it is easier to refer to them merely as Cotumix laying quail. In America however, they tend to call Cotumix layers, Pharaoh quail. In Japan they understandably call them Japanese quail. In Britain where, as always, we compromise, we call them all these things. It can be confusing!

The male Cotumix grows to a maximum of 16cm (6.5"), while the female is slightly larger at an average of 18cm (7.5"). Both sexes have dappled dark brown, buff and cream striated backs, paler underbellies, breast and flanks. In the female, the markings are less pronounced, while the male's chest is reddish brown. This particular feature enables sex identification to take place at around 3 weeks of age. Before then, it is difficult to do so. In both sexes there is a distinctive light stripe above the eye, and a white collar, although this may be diminished in the female. The beak is yellow-brown to dark olive-brown, the legs pinkish yellow and the eyes dark brown. The Coturnix laying quail has been selectively bred for commercial production to a limited extent, and the breeders have, in turn, given their names to particular strains. Curfew have developed their own Crusader strains, while in the USA, Marsh Farms produced Marsh Pharoah strains.

Coloured varieties of Coturnix

As well as the normal or commercial type of Coturnix laying quail, there are several varieties which show distinct colour variations and markings.

Manchurian quail: The alternative name for these is Manchurian Golden because of their colouring. They are essentially the same breed as Japanese or Pharoah, but have been developed as a separate variety with golden colouring. Markings are similar but the overall hue is lighter and more golden.

Range: The overall colouring is dark brown, so that some people refer to them as Brown quail. This is a mistake however, for the Brown quail is the name normally given to the Australian breed which is bigger and more greyish in appearance. However, there is a similarity and it is possible that Australian settlers introduced the Common quail to that Continent, with subsequent isolated development producing apparently different species.

The markings of the Range are essentially a lighter brown body colour overlaid with darker-brown, almost black pencilling, along with a certain amount of dark grey feathering on the back. The latter is a point of comparison with the Australian Brown quail.

In America, the Range Coturnix, is referred to as the British Range, while in the UK, we call it the American Range! The overall appearance is dark-brown while the striped head markings are similar to other Coturnix breeds. However, the white eyebrow stripe and white throat markings are virtually absent. Beak and legs are olive-brown and eyes, dark brown.

Fawn: This is the variety shown on the outside front cover and is one of my favourites. Essentially like all the other Coturnix breeds, the overall impression of the Fawn is a lovely warm pinkish-brown. The fawn feathers are pencilled with white and the white eyebrow lines are present, although not as strongly defined as in other breeds. Beak and legs are light pinkish-brown, and eyes are dark brown.

There is no colour difference between the sexes, although as in other breeds, the female is slightly bigger than the male.

English White: Good specimens of these are completely white, with no discernible markings, other than the merest hint of eyebrow lines on the head. It is common, however, to have odd patches of black, and a look at the photograph on page 17 indicates that mine do have slight markings on the back of the head. Breeders who are aiming for perfect, all-white specimens can breed this out with careful selective breeding. Beak and legs are pinkish brown and eyes are dark brown.

Male and female are identical, although the female grows to a larger size, particularly noticeable once breeding starts.

Tuxedo: This is an apt name for a bird with a smart white waistcoat to contrast with its dark brown overcoat. The colour of the back feathers is identical with those of the Range, indicating the close connection with that variety as well as with the English White. The ideal markings are clear white face, chest and belly, with brown back, tail and crown. In good specimens, the brown and white feathering is neatly demarcated, but it is common to find patches of white where the brown should be, and vice versa. If you look at the photograph on page 18 you will see that one of my Tuxedos has the brown and white plumage interspersed.

Commercial producers of eggs and table quail will concentrate on the Coturnix laying strains bred commercially. On a smaller scale, there is no reason why the interested reader should not go in for the colour variations of Coturnix. They are often prettier and are usually good egg producers. Egg production levels can, of course, be increased by selective breeding, and it is really the particular 'strain' which is relevant in this respect.

In addition to the normal Japanese Coturnix laying quail, I have kept Range, English White, Fawn and Tuxedo. The first do lay more than the others but the difference is not that marked and would only be unacceptable in a commercial egg production unit. On a small scale, many breeders find that concentrating on coloured varieties is not only more interesting, but they are able to sell breeding pairs or trios of stock in addition to, or instead of eggs.

© 2004. Katie Thear.

From Keeping Quail: A Guide to Domestic & Commercial Management,, published by Broad Leys Publishing Ltd