Make California Quail Feel at Home in Your Garden
Do you have quail in your neighborhood, but not in your yard? One reason might be the presence of feral and pet house cats - which is arguably the largest impediment to having California quail in your yard. Quail spend most of their time on the ground and are easy prey for a cat. By keeping your cat indoors (or at least restricting its outings to midday when most birds are less active), you can create a safer environment for the quail. Once you remove potential predators, you can encourage quail to visit your garden with a few bird-friendly additions.
Grow Some Quail Food
California quail feed by scratching and pecking at food items on the ground, much like chickens. Because quail are mainly seed-eaters, simply throwing out bird seed seems like a logical plan for attracting them. However this can encourage pests such as squirrels, rats, and jays to visit your yard. To avoid attracting these types of pests in your yard, you may want to consider planting a few plants that will provide a natural food source for the quail. Popular plants to choose from include: Salvia 'Pozo Blue', Lupinus nanus, Trifolium gracilentum (or other native species), Lotus scoparius, and Clarkia sp.
Photo of lupinus nanus courtesy of US Forestry Service
Create Nesting Spots
Because California Quail nest on the ground, they need dense cover to provide shelter and a hiding place from predators. Brush piles are effective but are an eyesore. A more aesthetically pleasing choice is a large woody shrub such as Sage, Toyon, Neven's Barbery, or California buckwheat.
Photo of California buckwheat
Give Quail a Water Source
Having a water source in your garden is a real benefit for many species of birds. For bathing or for drinking, it will attract a multitude of species. While Quail will usually use a taller bird bath, a simple water dish placed on the grounds seems to suit their needs better. Make sure it isn't too deep (no more than about an inch or two) and has sides that are easy to climb out of or a gradual incline around the edges. This will allow baby quail or other small animals to get out if they topple in by accident. It must be kept full at all times for the birds to find and use it regularly.
Preserve a Spot for Dust Baths
Quail love to take dust baths. This behavior removes pests form their feathers and can be very entertaining to observe. They hunker down in a shallow depression of loose soil, puff up all their feathers, and flick dirt up onto themselves. A patch of loose soil, a short distance from cover, that is free of weeds and debris works well for this activity.
General Habitat and Behavior of the California Quail
Quail like shrubs for cover but they also like open areas to feed in.
Keeping weeds to a minimum, with a few wildflowers, is best. A few perches will also provide a lookout for the male sentry to keep an eye on the covey (flock) in the non-breeding season. This can be a fence or a tall shrub, something a few feet higher than the surrounding vegetation so he can have a good view for cats or other predators.
Unless otherwise indicated, photos by Penny Wilson. Article by Penny Wilson. Penny is a garden writer who specializes in California native plants