quail

Quail are almost invisible in their natural habitat. Their feathers are an amber sort of brown and mottled with darker brown-black flecks. Some species have a stylish top knot like a tear shaped fascinator, which bobbles as they walk.

Quail originated in North America but now there are 32 species found across the world. Their colourings and markings have adapted to camouflage them in the different habitats and landscapes that they live in. They prefer bushy open spaces or woodland so that they can hide effectively. Most often it is very unusual to see them but you can sometimes hear their distinctive chirpy call. They communicate between themselves in high pitched sounds like cackles and grunts, but often go round in family groups or on their own.

The eggs they lay are in clutches of about six, and are brightly coloured and have a pretty mottled pattern which is like an individual signature for each family.

They hatch after about 23 days, the chicks toddle off with their parents, foraging, looking for water, roosting and avoiding predators almost from the moment they hatch.
quail learn to recognise each other’s voices for individual and group conversations. They can live for between 3-5 years in the wild.

They bathe in dust to get rid of parasites from their plumage and to keep clean. If any of their natural enemies, (like cats, foxes, birds of prey or snakes) threaten them, they run quickly away, or stand stock still or fly straight upwards into the air.

As we destroy the natural world, quail have started to become recognised as an endangered species.

The names for a group (the collective noun) of quail are a bevy, or a covey or a drift.

They are very popular as ‘Game Birds’. This means that people nurture drifts of quail on their land, making sure they have a comfortable habitat and the food that they like best, which is seeds and grains and berries and insects, then they arrange for other people to come along and scare them so that they fly up into the air and people pay to shoot at them.

They are supposed to be tasty to eat and some people like to decorate their clothes with quail feathers.

They are often kept on farms or domestically so that their eggs can be gathered for food.


goldenpheasant
The spectacular male Golden pheasant was originally from the mountain areas of China, but now lives in the wild in lots of places across the world including England.
It has a posh name like all animals and plants which is in both Greek and Latin. From Ancient Greek comes ‘khrusolophos’ meaning ‘with a golden crest’ and from Latin ‘pictus’ which means ‘to paint’.

Its tail is two thirds of its whole body length, but its body and head are the most showy bits. It does look a little bit like someone has been playing a game of consequences and has made up a fantasy bird in a game. It has a brilliant golden crest on its head and a golden bottom with a bright red body and an orange cape around its neck with black stripes on. To make things even more incredible when it is trying its hardest to look dapper and attract a nice female companion, it spreads out its cape so the feathers make an orange and black striped pattern that covers all of its head except for its beady eyes.

The pheasant molts every year, this means like lots of birds they have a change of feathers and loose the old ones to grow a new set. This leaves the fancy male particularly strange to look at. The farm staff have nicknamed him The Emperor because of the story about the Emperor who was tricked into buying what he was told was a glorious set of clothes for a big royal celebration, but he really had no clothes on at all. But all his subjects were so afraid to mention the fact that he was absolutely naked, that they kept on pretending to admire his suit. All except for one child who was very very honest and shouted out, ‘Look at the Emperor, he’s got no clothes on!’ And everyone suddenly felt able to tell the truth about what they were really seeing instead of what they were told that they were seeing. It’s a very good story.

The female bird is far more sensibly dressed. Like other female birds she has a sensible approach to feathers and has plumage in colours that camouflage her so that she can really look almost invisible as she sits on the nest to hatch her eggs and then care for her chicks.

Golden pheasants like to peck at insects and berries and stuff from the woodland floor and sleep, roost, in the trees at night. They don’t fly much but can run quite well, though they will make a noisy flight into the sky if they are startled by anything.


crow1Lots of crows live around Mudchute. They are truly amazing birds with brains that are big in proportion to the size of their body, about the same proportions as we see in dolphins.

They have 250 or so different calls which implies that they have a language system at work. In fact, we also know that they have different local dialects depending on where they live in the world.  When they meet others with different accents they will copy their sounds, much like we do when we hear a new set of voices.

We know that they exchange information within their groups. For example, we know that they can remember faces for up to 5 years. If someone has been cruel or unkind to them they will gang up on that person to defend themselves.  They also get together and mob predators which threaten their safety.

On the other hand, they form attachments with people who are kindly towards them and they have even known to bring gifts to people who they have made friends with.

They are playful and invent games to play together like jousting or tug-of-war and doing acrobatics as they fly in the sky.

crow2
Crows are well known for using and making tools to do jobs that they need, often combining lots of different bits and pieces to get their tasks done.  They plan how to do special tasks ahead of doing them. For example they will pop pebbles into beakers of water with a floating treat in it that is beyond their reach, this raises the level of the water until their beaks can peck out the goodies. There is also great footage of them sitting on traffic lights over busy roads. They drop walnuts into the road so that the cars drive over them and squish the tough shells, exposing the delicious flesh of the nut. When the lights turn red, they swoop down and peck up all of the edible yummy bits of food. Isn’t that amazing?

They also have invented a medication of sorts. They gather ants and rub them into their feathers and skin so that they release an acid which repels hurtful bugs and microorganisms.

They save the food that they gather, if they have more than enough to eat. And just like we do, they will eat the things that are most perishable first.

crow3
They mate for life and have clutches of between three to nine eggs and take about 20-40 days to hatch. However the juvenile birds don’t leave the family home for many years and they play a role in babysitting for the new baby birds and bringing food to their mother as she incubates new eggs.

When a crow dies, the others gather around it and hold what looks to us just like a funeral. We are not sure why they do this, but it could be that these clever, intelligent, sociable beings need to mourn when one of their number dies, just like humans do.