QUAIL (O. Fr. Quaille, Mod. Fr. Caille, Ital. Quaglia, Low Lat. Quaquila, Du. Kwakkel and nl, Ger. Wachtel, Dan. Vaglel), a well-known bird throughout almost all countries of Europe, Asia and Africa— in modern Ornithology the Colurnix communis or C. daclylisonans. This last epithet was given from the peculiar three-syllables call-note of the cock, which has been grotesquely rendered in several European languages, and in some parts of Great Britain the species is popularly known by the nickname of “wet-my-lips” or “wet-my-feet.” The quail varies somewhat in colour, and the variation is rather individual than attributable to local causes; but generally the plumage may be described as reddish-brown above, almost each feather being transversely patched with dark brown interrupted by a longitudinal stripe of light buff; the head is dark brown above, with three longitudinal streaks of ochreous-white; the sides of the breast and flanks are reddish-brown, distinctly striped with ochreous-white; the rest of the lower parts are pale buff, clouded with a darker shade, and passing into white on the belly. The cock, besides being generally brighter in tint, not infrequently has the chin and a double-throat band of reddish or blackish-brown, which marks are wanting in the hen, whose breast is usually spotted. Quails breed on the ground, and lay from nine to fifteen eggs of a yellowish-white, blotched and spotted with dark brown. Though essentially migratory by nature, not a few quails pass the winter in the northern hemisphere and even in Britain, and many more in southern Europe. In March and April they cross the Mediterranean from the south on the way to their breeding homes in large bands, but these are said to be as nothing compared with the enormous flights that emigrate from Europe towards the end of September. During both migrations immense numbers are netted for the market, since they are almost universally esteemed as delicate meat. The flesh of quails caught in spring commonly proves dry and indifferent, but that of those taken in autumn, especially when they have been kept long enough to grow fat, as they quickly do, is excellent. In no part of the British islands at present do quails exist in sufficient numbers to be the especial object of sport. In old days they were taken in England in a net, attracted thereto by means of a quail-call—a simple instrument, the use of which is now wholly neglected—on which their notes are easily imitated. In South Africa and India allied species, C. delegorguii and C. coromandelica, the latter known as the Rain-Quail, respectively occur, as well as the commoner one, which in Australia and Tasmania is wholly replaced by C. pectoralis, the Stubble-Quail of the colonists. In New Zealand another species, C. novae-zelandiae, was formerly very abundant in some districts. Some fifteen or perhaps more species of quails, inhabiting the Indian and Australian regions, have been separated, perhaps unnecessarily, to form the genera Synoecus, Perdicula, Excalphatofia, and so forth.
America has some fifty or sixty species of birds which are commonly deemed quails, though by some authors placed in a distinct family or sub-family Odontophorinae The best known is the Virginian Quail, or Colin, as it is sometimes called—that being, according to Hernandez, its old Mexican name. It is the Ortyx (or Colinus) virginianus of modern ornithology, and has a wide distribution in North America, being called “partridge” in the Southern states, and elsewhere being known by the nickname of “Bob-White,” aptly bestowed upon it from a call-note of the cock. Many unsuccessful attempts have been made to introduce this bird to England (as indeed similar trials have been made in the United States with quails from Europe). The beautiful tufted Quail of California, Lophortyx californica, has also been tried at large in Europe without success; but it is well established as an aviary bird. A few of the American Quails or Colins roost in trees.
Interesting from many points of view as is the group of birds last mentioned, there is another which, containing a score of species (or perhaps more) often termed Quails or Button-Quails, is of still greater importance in the eyes of the systematist. This is that comprehended by the genus Turnix, or Hemipodius of some authors, the anatomical structure of which removes it far from the genera Coturnix, Ortyx, and their allies, and even from any of the normal Gallinae. T. H. Huxley regarded it as the representative of a generalized stock from which the Charadriomorphae and Alectoromorphae, to say nothing of other groups, have sprung. The button-quails are now placed as a separate sub-order, Turnices, of the order Galliformes (see Bird). One species, T. sylvatica, inhabits Barbary and southern Spain, and under the name of Andalucian Hemipode has been included (though on evidence not wholly satisfactory) among British birds as a reputed straggler. The rest are natives of various parts of the Ethiopian, Indian and Australian regions. It is characteristic of the genus Turnix to want the hind toe; but the African Ortyxelus and the Australian Pedionomus, which have been referred to its neighbourhood, have four toes on each foot. (A. N.)