What Is My Quail Doing? Quail Behavior That Might Freak You Out

Discover strange and unique quail behavior, from looking dead when they sleep to walking backward to poop. Learn about these odd birds.

A quirky quail chick looking at the camera.

Keeping quail is an experience that I believe every homesteader should enjoy. If it’s not for all these reasons, or even these delicious quail egg recipes, it’s because they are so darn funny. 

I did a lot of research before I got Coturnix quail. I knew how many females I needed for each male. I knew how to incubate them and brood them. I had the right setup prepared and the right foods on hand. I thought I was ready. That was before they arrived.

Many things the quail do will scare the bejeezus out of you when they first do it. That’s why I felt it was my duty to give you a heads-up with these funny facts about quail.

Quail Look Dead When They Sleep

It starts from the day they hatch. They splat like a puppy, usually on their bellies, but sometimes on their sides or back. The first time I looked in the brooder and saw it, I thought the heat lamp had cooked them all. When I opened the lid to check them, they all popped up like little popcorn kernels. Even as adults, they continue to do this.

Though their comatose-like state is amusing, it’s also a necessary survival mechanism. Their habitat offers few hiding spaces, so they adapt to their environment by blending in. When they curl up in a tight ball and go completely still, they look like a small stone or some other type of desert rock. They often press their eyes, feet, and feathers to the ground, reducing the chances of predators spotting them. Playing dead keeps them safe from the many predators that lurk in the wild.

Quail Cry When You Leave

Never have you heard such a woeful sound. After visiting the brooder or giving out treats to the grownups, they will cry upon your departure. It’s a sad mewing sort of sound. Often it starts with one, but others will join in. Before you know it, there is a whole flock of crying quail.

The sound of the quail’s cries compels you to stay. No matter the reason for your departure, the quail’s haunting call will stay with you until you return again.

Quail Walk Backward to Poop

One evening while collecting the final eggs for the day, I discovered one of my quail walking backward all over the run. I figured he sustained some head trauma or was under attack from some weird virus. After frantically searching online, I discovered he was just constipated. The quick backward shuffle you see occasionally is the quail eliminating.

While a bit strange, constipation is quite common in quail and is a reality you must face. Luckily, there are ways to prevent the condition, and with a few simple dietary and environmental changes, quail can find relief. The key is to ensure the quail has a balanced diet that includes plenty of fiber-rich greens and a clean coop with clean bedding. Additionally, providing some grit or mineral blocks is known to help. With these simple tips, your quail can be their happy, backward-pooping selves again.

Quail Are Acrobats

My children’s favorite activity is feeding the quail goodies from the garden. They hold them to the top of the run, and the quail will hop up to get the treat. They will also scale up and down their log at an astounding pace.

Sometimes when you look closely, the quail will be up on their log doing a little dance, bobbing up and down and side to side. It’s almost like they know how to appreciate the little things in life, such as some fresh greens from the garden.

Eggs Pop Right Out of Them

Chickens have an egg-laying process. They find the perfect nest, arrange it to suit their preferences, and sit there anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour. The ducks have a routine as well. They find the perfect place you will never look, create a small hole, and sit for about 15 minutes before burying it (again, to keep you always wondering where the eggs are). 

Quail pop out eggs as they walk along. My quail’s favorite location is in the dusting bowl while they dust themselves. They don’t even try. They sit there flinging dirt all over the place, and when they get up – plop – there’s an egg—no need to build a nest box for these guys.

The Roosters Surprise Themselves

When young male birds first crow, they almost seem surprised by this newly acquired ability. With quail, this surprise never goes away. My males, who have been crowing for over a year, are still taken aback every time they do it. I’m unsure how to describe what a surprised quail looks like but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. Whenever one of the males crows, I instantly think of Steve Urkel. Did I do that?

The surprise response of the quail is an incredibly cute and endearing sight to behold. In addition, it provides an interesting insight into quail behavior. It makes me wonder if birds feel pride or accomplishment when they master a new feat or are just as confused as we are. Regardless of the answer, it’s certainly a fascinating interaction to watch.

Some Additional Fun Quail Facts

Here are some other fun facts about quail behavior.

 Blinking and a feather fluff or a stretch (to me) means they are happy.

When quail feel threatened, they prefer to run rather than fly. They are fast runners, reaching speeds above 15 miles per hour.

Quail are poor flyers, and they can only take flight for short distances and at low heights. They live in habitats that provide ample ground cover, which makes running and hiding from predators easier than flying away.

Quail puff their feathers for a variety of reasons. This quail behavior could indicate that they are overheated, fearful, aggressive, ill, or broody.

If you’ve found value in this blog post and enjoyed reading it, why not share it with your Pinterest community? Pin the image below and spread the love!

A pinterest-friendly graphic on quail behavior.

Quail are coo-coo-cute, and quail behavior can leave you torn between amusement and surprise. Whether playing dead to stay safe or crowing in surprise at their newfound abilities, their behavior is as intriguing as funny. With the right care and set-up, quail can provide you with years of amusement.

As for me, I’m thankful that I took the plunge and got quail. They are the most entertaining animals I have had in the homestead, and I’m sure quail keepers everywhere agree. Let’s leave it to everyone to find out for themselves what their quail are doing.

Hopefully, this eases your mind when you go to the coop and see your quail acting oddly. They are just weird little birds.

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  1. We have families of quail in our backyard – one family has a brood of 8 chicks and this morning Tom looked out and the female was splayed out on the concrete by our pool and he thought she might be dead. Looked like she had a dark ring around her – she stayed like that for several minutes and then all of a sudden these little heads started popping out. Was she protecting them from something- never seen this before!

  2. My indoor quail has one swollen eye and one eye closed.

    He is separated from the other quail for now.

    He looks like he is talking to himself, or at least his
    beak is opening and closing.
    He does seem to be drinking water.

    Any helpful thoughts ?

    1. A bird opening and closing it’s north like that is having a hard time breathing. He likely has a respiratory infection. Their eyes, nose & mouth are connected like ours, only closer. So, when they have a respiratory infection it can affect the eyes as well. I hope your little guy made it.

  3. Hi there, I have a quail that flies straight into the ceiling or just jumps up in his cage when sleeping. He injures his head. He looks like a Yellow legged button quail (Fledgling).
    He is injured and I’m trying to nurse him back to health before letting him go. But he is always looking to escape and has to be force fed.

    1. Anonymous says:

      My yellow legged quail does the same thing. You will have to force feed him till he recovers. Do your best to not let him injure his head again.
      Unfortunately my quail is sick. He had a cold, diarrhea and, is now constipated.

  4. Sue Dillon says:

    Today I found a family of Quail in my courtyard. Mom & Dad w/ 5 babies( very tiny). Parents have been sitting on them, but once they got up,they seemed to be trying to find a way to get them out of the courtyard which is surrounded by a 5 foot wall. The parents are on the wall trying to call to the babies to follow, but so far no success!
    do they need help or are they able to get them out of there? I have 2 dogs that use the courtyard as well. Help! Will they accept our help?

  5. There are lots of wild quail where I live and frequently in Summer I see babies scurrying along behind Mother with Dad perched somewhere on the look out for danger. Today however, a male has been constantly wandering around one small patch of my deck which is about 400cm from the ground. He has been cocking his ear as though listening. Occasionally he wanders away if I go out and disturb him but he soon returns. I have fed him some crumbs and he has eaten them. Sometimes he rests by standing on one leg. I am mystified by what he is doing. Could it be that a clutch of eggs are below the deck and he is listening out for them hatching? I can not hear anything. I live in a coastal area in central NZ so it is currently late Springtide. Have you any explanations to offer? I can send you a photo I took earlier this morning. It is now mid afternoon he is still holding his post as though on duty. Thank you for any explanation you can offer.

  6. I had two (male and female) quail. The female escaped and then the male wouldn’t stop crying so I got another one for him but he is still crying. Can you tell me if they mate for life and if I got two more would that help or would they all start. It is very loud.

  7. I really appreciated this page Jessica ! Thank you

    We want to house 6 females inside, we can’t quite verify the following :

    We want to use a four level rat cage with a sand box, put it indoors in our ‘bird room’ with two cages of a a few finch pets. We made our bird cages so we could make a one level box if that is good, but we thought they’d enjoy the different spots with different things to do.
    1. We think we understand there is chirping but that with the door shut (as it’s normally shut due to cats, and the bird cages are in a room so we don’t have to be afraid of a finch getting out and hurt) but, we’re wondering if the chirping is constant ?
    2. Also wondering if they are too messy or needy to leave them food and water for two days at a time; when we go to our cabin we return every two days to re supply the finches.
    We are animal lovers and try to provide the best care and entertainment and food. We ‘breed’ mealworms for the fire finches and javas so that is a great thing to offer.
    3. Also wondering if we keep them as pets for their lifetime, will there be any eggs at around three years or older ?
    We wanted to eventually do some breeding and eating, for us and cats but I know that is a ways off.
    4. Lastly, wondering if they can be played with on the floor, we have 3 and 5 year old granddaughters. Do they poop suddenly and, are they sloppy poops or easy to pick up ?
    Thanks so much if you get a change, or anyone, can offer some help.

  8. Number one got me when we first got our baby chicks as well! The legs sticking up in the air at odd angles had us convinced they’d all gone to the great farm in the sky. Thanks for posting – quail sound like a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll look into getting some!

  9. Nola Marth says:

    We have a House pet Bobwhite male that Barks like a dog, makes a sound like the ambulance when he hears it.
    Makes a purring sound at his Mrs when he makes her a nest. Kissy noises when he finds her a treat.
    He is paired with a corturnix female and she is endlessly frustrating to him.
    She stands in the bottom of the cage and yells for him if she can’t see him.
    He spends hours making her a nest only to fave her fart out an egg while leaning over the food dish.
    Did you know that Quail can recognize their own egg patterns?

    He chatters to my husband, patrols the windowsill, Barks at the dogs walking by.
    Tells him when he wants the light on or off.
    Runs out and tells me when he needs water, seeds, or wants a bath.
    Knows when I start cooking and open the fridge.
    He gets up high to see what I’m doing and mooches anything that looks tasty.

    He very much considers himself a member of our flock.
    He is right below my husband and has a mancrush on him.
    I am of course.. next in line after him.
    If he alerts and my husband gets up and goes to see.
    Tells bob that he’s a good boy for spotting the hawk or Eagle out the window.
    He struts back and forth on the windowsill outside his cage, chest all puffed out.
    His favorite music is Bach’s ‘Air in G’ . He loves action movies…
    Mimics the ‘pew pew pew’ shooting sounds. It is hilarious..

    He sleeps in the top of his cage.. Bob on patrol.

  10. Great list. With respect to meat, do you think it is cheaper to raise quail than broilers?

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      That’s hard to answer. You can raise a lot more quail in a smaller space which helps with cost. They also have better feed conversion. Having said that, a broiler feeds a family and it takes a quail or two to feed a person. We just got an app that came out called SmartSteader that calculates cost per pound for produce, milk, and meat. In a year or two I should have a better answer.

      1. Thanks for the reply. That’s a good app for serious homesteaders.

  11. Amber Ketchum says:

    I loved this article! They sound like hysterical little birds and we can’t wait to have our own brood. Thank you!

    1. A group of Quail is called a covey…

  12. thank you for such a nice article! I learned a lot from the comments as well. I’m in the planning stage of building a day quail aviary/grow house. I think it will be 12 ft by 6 ft and about 5ft 8 in tall. I think I will use cattle panel covered with hardware cloth. I think I will put a clear roofing over top (shade cloth) in the summer. I think I will have a potting/planting counter one one side of the “house” with foam pad on the bottom so the quail don’t jump up and break their necks. I think I will plant bunch grasses, day lilies, ruellia in the bottom. I will have a little shelter on the ground for them. I live in zone 8a. I think I can keep 6 females and 1 male in there. Any other tips or suggestions?

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      You can comfortably fit 35 quail in a space that size, but having less means they’ll have a more natural environment. My only caution is to not grow too attached to anything you plant. They will most likely eat it or dig it up. Also make sure you check to make sure the plants you put in there aren’t toxic to poultry. I know day lilies are okay, but some ornamental grasses are toxic. I’m not familiar with ruellia.

    2. Aura-Madalina says:

      Purslane is a good source of aminoacides…even for humans…

  13. Question, a couple actually……we have a silky hen that gets super broody and loves raising babies, any babies in fact, would we be safe for her to raise some quail? We have a “nursery” that she raises her babies in. Also, can then run with out chickens? Any info/comments would be appreciative.

    The chickens started off as my oldest daughters addiction, but has quickly been taken up by the rest of us. Dang, now I’m super excited to try some quail. ?

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      Silkies make great mamas and they are small enough to hatch quail chicks, just make sure the tiny chicks can’t escape the nursery. They can’t really run with the chickens because of their size (and they are susceptible to infections from chicken poop). With just the silkie, they should be fine. Careful, they are super addictive.

  14. In re #5: If you raise quail in a large, natural space, one that will give them an illusion of the wild but still protect them from predators, then they will not only make nests but they will also sit, hatch and brood the chicks, in fact they make excellent mothers. The male also makes and guards the nest although I have not had one sit yet. It is only because they have been systematically bred as laying machines that most people don’t know they do this.
    Two more facts for you – quail eggs are not only highly edible but also medicinal, in fact that is why I started raising quail in 2000, to cure my husband’s hay fever and eczema which they did. You will need to raise them organically to get therapeutic grade eggs.
    – quail like chickens were first brought out of the wild for ‘sport’ i.e. to fight, there’s a reference in Shakespeare to this but it goes back to antiquity. They were also raised in the Far East as song birds. Modern quail do not have the same vocal ability as an early strain of coturnix, which were wiped out in the World War 11 but, they still have a pleasing and calming lilt. The ‘crying’ you mention is to draw attention to the fact that they are not happy with you – often they will do that if they are hungry. There is so much to learn and very little research interest, except for patenting the process of extracting the human trypsin inhibitor in quail egg. All the best from Normandie Holistic Hen aka Sue

    1. My quail built nest hatch and brood the chicks and she is excellent mother. She try to found the best place and then when egg come out she talk to it and sitt on it for a while… 🙂

  15. Thanks for this list! I currently have a button quail who was a bit down on her luck. Her mate decided to try and kill her after a stressful move, all the little buttons ganging up on her. So she was separated and is a little too traumatized to be around other birds. So she’s been in my care and recovering nicely. I was amazed to see how much she loves her dust bath and how she likes to sing to herself while bathing. But today I had the joy of seeing her run backwards while I tried to figure out if she was dying and why I was such a bad careowner even though I’ve tried everything.

    And then I came across this list and I felt better. I’ll also try not to be surprised when she starts laying eggs anywhere she pleases.

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I am glad I curbed that fear for you. I thought the same thing.

  16. Sounds interesting! How does the taste of quail eggs and meat compare to the taste of chicken? We love our chickens!

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      The egg taste quite similar to chicken eggs, just a bit richer. Obviously it takes a few more eggs to fill your belly the way a chicken egg does. The meat is akin to partridge, if you’ve ever had it.

  17. Ellen Jeffery says:

    I have never considered raising quail-until now. I never knew they could be so quirky and entertaining. Plus my kids love the eggs. This may be a future project for my little homestead.

  18. Thank you!
    I had only passed over the idea of having quail…but they sound like delightful animals so am going to
    give them a whirl in 2016 🙂

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      You would love them. They are fun little birds.

  19. Tam Martin-Kessell says:

    What about solar lighting?

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I found that solar lights tend to be too “blue” to trigger laying. The hormone that triggers laying responds to warm wavelengths.

  20. Carole West @ Garden Up Green says:

    This is interesting because as you know I raise them on the ground and the experience is a bit different with the exception of #1 and #5 – The male crow is their mating call and if they’re in a large living space they’ll use it to gather the flock. The Coturnix are so different compared to native breeds, way more domestic. I primarily like this breed for eggs and then meat after the season ends. Are you going to keep a light on them through the cooler temperatures so they keep laying? Sounds like you’re having fun which is awesome! I enjoy my quail way more than chickens, especially the Bobwhites.
    Have a great week Jessica!

    1. Jessica Lane says:

      I was planning to, but now I’m on the fence. What has your experience been with no adding lighting? Did they stop all together or just slow down? I would like to keep them going a bit so I can fill orders at our local health food store, but I would rather not deal with the electric bill. I keep a light on for the chickens and ducks in both the coop and the run. The quail pen is attached to the end of the run with a big window in their coop. They may get enough diffused light to keep them going.

      1. Carole West @ Garden Up Green says:

        I didn’t use a light on the coturnix because I wanted to keep things all natural. The birds stopped laying in November and started back up the end of March. Take into consideration our temperature difference too. Our first frost doesn’t arrive until November, normally the middle of the month. It was a hard call to not use a light but because I also have chickens letting them rest made sense. The Bobwhites are now 18 weeks, I won’t even get eggs from them until next spring. Primarily I like this birds for the meat and release.

        1. How old are they when they start laying. Just got quail and the older bunch seem about fully grown. Love their songs and funny hopping!

      2. You can use a row of simple white Christmas lights and the electric bill is minimal, but they still need rest from laying…