KEEPING QUAIL: A Guide to Domestic & Commercial
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
Female Coturnix quail.
(Photo: Katie Thear)
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
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
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
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
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
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.
From Keeping Quail: A Guide to Domestic & Commercial
Management,, published by Broad
Leys Publishing Ltd