Thursday, 27 July 2017

A mild winter

The birds are thriving. We've sold some, eaten some (sorry boys) and swapped some. The flock currently numbers 21 Coturnix quail and 4 King quail. Ideally we'll get rid of more by the time the spring laying season arrives, as this is still too many. We just can't decide who to get rid of! This handsome fella (or lass) is Mini-Boc, looking very plump and gorgeous in the winter afternoon. 
 The trees are bare, and there's not as much cover as the birds prefer, so we have left corners of the garden wild and overgrown, and they spend much of their time wandering through the long grass. Alternatively they cluster around the gate waiting for us to come and feed them (they are definitely spoilt and lazy).
This is Melon, hiding in the grass. The rests of the garden is much less overgrown - so this is naturally the birds' favourite hangout.

This is Fog, eating our home-grown millet!

The birds love millet seeds and dried sunflower heads, but only in winter. In summer or autumn they won't touch them!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Snowpea dust-bathing

This is our first attempt at getting a video onto the blog...hopefully it works!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Sudden death

If anyone can help...

Our last clutch (from one of our younger birds) hatched 7 eggs from a total of 21... We think other birds may have been laying in the nest, as the mother had started sitting once she reached about 11 eggs - but the number kept going up. All our other broody hens stopped laying once they started full-time sitting, so we are not exactly sure what was going on with this one.

The mother is quite wild, refusing to be hand-fed, and was very protective of her chicks, keeping well away from us and the other birds, and fluffing up to twice her size and hissing and growling if we came too close. Usually with newly-hatched chicks we feed them meal-worms, and give extra to the mother as well, but this one wanted nothing to do with us. Her chicks seemed very active, and she was a very vocal mother, calling to them constantly and keeping them close. We decided to leave her to it, as we've not had a great survival rate with chicks, despite our efforts to feed them and protect them.

At a week old the little family appeared to be thriving, and we were very pleased. Then the weather suddenly got cold. We went into the garden after a cold and wet night, and found one chick feebly calling, a second nearly frozen, and three dead in a huddled heap. The mother came running over asking to be fed, and the last two chicks were with her. We rushed the two cold ones up to the house and put them in the incubator to warm them up. The weaker one never recovered, and died after about 20 minutes. The second one initially looked much better, and started walking around, calling, and we were about to take it back to the mother. Then we noticed it appeared to be staggering, eventually it lay down, unable to lift its head, and then started twitching, and could barely move. Sadly, we decided to kill it, rather than watch it suffer.

The two surviving chicks are healthy - so far - and the mother now comes to be fed in the morning, but then takes her family and does her own thing, continuing to be aggressive to anyone who approaches.

So what happened?

At first we thought the cold killed them - but we can't understand why three were found dead and huddled together - if they were cold, and the mother had walked away, they would try to follow. We think they may have died under her.
The other two did appear to be trying to find her - and she'd been an excessively attentive mother up until then - why did she suddenly ignore them?
The one who seemed to recover, and then suddenly weakened again, despite being warm under the incubator - what happened there?
We wonder if they were sick, and that's why the mother abandoned them. Did she know they were too weak to survive? Could they have eaten something that poisoned them?

We've never had an experience like this one, and are at a loss to understand what happened. Can anyone help? Has anyone had chicks die suddenly, after a week running around and appearing to be strong and healthy?

Saturday, 11 February 2017


Our single solitary King quail male continues hale and hearty - and gorgeous!

If only we could find him a mate...

"I am the Lord of all I survey..."
If anyone in Tassie has any spare female King quails - we can offer a very good home to them! Send us a message through this blog...please!

Boys being boys...

Our quails have no trouble going broody, and hatching chicks (getting the chicks to survive to maturity is another issue...) so the boys are definitely doing their job. However, our quails do seem to prefer a single male-female pairing, and some females are more popular than others, leading to all sorts of struggles.

We currently have almost as many males as females - which just doesn't work. We have eaten a few boys, and sold some others, and when our current young males mature we will have to do the same again.

We can't work out why some girls seem to have "it" while others are ignored - is it age? Markings? Pheromones? Likewise, the males also show a decided pecking order, with one taking the role of Alpha Male, and mating with all the girls, while other lesser males have to use sneaky tactics. They can be helped by the girls themselves, who will allow the Alpha Male to mate, but will then turn on him viciously, and drive him away after the event, running off with one of the others. The girls often seem to choose their mates, and many spend their days in happy seclusion with their preferred partner, putting up with occasional attacks by other (unpartnered) males, or the Alpha Male.  It's confusing, and we haven't yet worked out the best ratio, or how to ensure they all partner happily. All the birds are different, and have strong personalities, and their preferences seem to change.

However, when two birds fight - for whatever reason -  it can be quite spectacular (and difficult to photograph, apologies for the blurred pics!)

Cue music: "it's the eye of the tiger..."
"It's the thrill of the fight..."
"Rising up to the challenge of our rival..."

 Once the fight is over, the birds dust themselves off and move away. One of our oldest males - Fog - had been top male for quite a while, and is still very reluctant to cede his position. His younger replacement, Fedderdix, is in his prime. Fog is still only a year or so old, but he's had a hard life, including three weeks in a cast with a broken leg! At the moment he's looking decidedly the worse for wear, as he gets attacked by both males and females. Most of the feathers from the back of his neck have been pulled out, but he still seems happy enough, and hops onto the top of the compost heap to crow...this is his favourite place, and he spends much of his time perched on high, while the other birds rummage for worms and bugs below.

Fog looking somewhat scruffy...

After yet another battle - a stiff drink is needed...

Starting a new year in the garden

Well, where to start?
We've been away for much of the summer, and the birds - and the garden - have mostly thrived, despite ridiculously wet and cool conditions. The rest of the country is battling heatwaves, while our little island state records summer snowfalls...!

The garden looking less like an untamed wilderness...
After coming home to find our garden had become a wildly overgrown jungle, we have finally managed to restore some sense of order, and take stock. Our freezer is filled with raspberries, thanks to our house-minder for picking them! We are inundated with plums, and have done pretty well with apricots and nectarines. On the downside, our apples are thoroughly infested with codling moth, the grapes have the worst case of powdery mildew we've seen yet, and the weeds are thicker than ever...

Mildew...this year's grape harvest not looking good...
And the quails?
Of the chicks who hatched just before we left, three survived. Another hatching (from Snowpea) while we were away brought 4, Spock hatched a second batch of 6 the day before we got home - a week later Melon hatched a further 7. The three oldest were doing fine on their own, as were Snowpea's four. We started feeding Spock's chicks mealworms (we've always done this with new chicks, worrying that they don't always find enough for themselves, and constant food-hunting is exhausting for the mother). They very quickly began associating us with food, and following us around. Things got chaotic once Melon hatched her chicks - who we also fed mealworms - so both lots of babies, and their mothers, would follow us around. The chicks were often confused as to which bird was mother...
Spock decided motherhood was not for her when her chicks were about two weeks old, and abruptly abandoned her flock. Her chicks were not really old enough to be left, and followed all the other birds around, cheeping hopefully. There was a lovely moment when they decided Fedderdix was to be their new mum (Fedderdix is a young male, very sweet-natured, and the only survivor of Spock's previous brood). The 6 chicks snuggled up to him and tried to burrow into his feathers to keep warm. Fedderdix stood around patiently for a while, but he was confused when the chicks burrowed too deep, and he would walk away, while the babies would fall out, and run after him. Eventually, and inevitably, they joined Melon and her flock of 7. Melon was very tolerant, and adopted them, but having 13 chicks attempt to snuggle underneath her was not really practical - and it was her chicks (as they were younger and smaller) who lost the struggle.. When her original family had been reduced to 5 we decided to intervene. We caught Melon and her brood and put them in our baby-raising cage, and put the 6 orphans in another cage in the shed, just at night. They cheeped forlornly, and we put a heated wheat -pack in with them as a substitute mother...they snuggled up to it happily, and we would find them in a tight little pile in the morning. During the day they would all roam the garden together, but if it got cold, Melon's babies would be pushed aside... She ended up with 3 surviving chicks - and all 6 of Spock's abandoned babies - thanks to Melon - are fine!
A huddle of chicks (all of these are from Spock)
It's now more than four weeks since we came home, and all 9 chicks are developing well and hang out as one big family - Melon has moved on.

We've had fun with their names - Melon's babies are Rockmelon, Watermelon and Pademelon!

Introducing Pademelon, daughter (or son) of Melon!
Although we are a little disappointed with Spock's parenting techniques, we are very happy that - finally - we have some different colouring. Five of her 6 chicks are dark brown, with patches of white (tuxedo marking?) We can actually tell them apart, which we can't always do with some of the others...

Finally, a little one who stands out from the flock!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

RIP Blork

We sadly have to report that we have lost our beautiful Blork. All had been well for a long time when we noticed a small clump of bloodied feathers on the ground near the door to the enclosure. We looked around, but there was nothing else. Many of the birds are squabbling, so we decided it was just a slightly more epic fight than we usually have - until we found more feathers. We immediately feared another rat had got in, and diligently searched the entire perimeter - no holes, no dead birds (we have always found bits of birds after rat attacks). Chloe noticed a feather drifting down from the top of the net, but there were no holes in the roof, so we put it down to normal moulting and a windy day...
We were worried though, and did a head-check count of all our birds. Snowpea and Blork could not be found. Blork, when we last saw her, had a slightly damaged eye, probably from fighting off an amorous male.
I don't know why Seb climbed onto the shed roof, but he did, and there were more feathers. I went up, and there she was (or wasn't, all that was left was a leg and her wings!). She'd been eaten - through the net - by a hawk. We think she flew up onto the shed roof, which is about a metre below the top of the net, and, probably while hesitating and a bit confused about where she was, she was seen and taken. There was no hole in the net, but it would be very easy for a raptor to strike and reach her through the net at that distance.
Poor lovely girl!
So now we are back to square one, with too many males...
Let's hope the latest broods survive and am dominated by females!