Saturday, June 5, 2010

Backyard Massacre

a backyard tragedy., originally uploaded by Az~Kate.
I have a sad tale to tell. Last night we went out for Thai, and when we came home Petey (our mixed terrier mutt) was quite excited...we figured he'd been barking at something outside the wall, as he commonly does.

However this morning, I noticed a couple adult Gambels Quail continually pacing atop our block wall. And while watering the garden, Petey was nosing around under a shrub as if on the hunt. The mama Quail just above him on the wall would not leave. uh oh.

I put Petey in the house and sealed his doggie door. Hunted around the shrubs hoping to spot a chick who couldn't get over the wall to rejoin its family. Nothing. Eventually I gave up, then was tending the pool, when I found a tiny quail chick near the leaf catcher... I cried. Figured Petey chased it into the pool where it drowned. But I knew this chick was not very old, too small to have come into the yard, had to have been born here. Oh dear. First quail nest in our yard in 14 years... what were that pair thinking! Petey is a notorious bird chaser.

So, I started looking again and found 7 more dead babies all in the pool pump enclosure, and a small ground indentation in the corner behind the filter, their ground nest. I had a full blown nature massacre taking place while I was enjoying my Spicy garlic eggplant! I was heart broken and have declared our once beloved pet, an evil monster.

I cleaned up the remains, and noticed the parents still scurrying atop the wall and calling out warningly... could any of these tiny babies have survived? What a large clutch, this must have been. There was no way for them out of our yard at this tiny, too small to fly, size. The drain holes were full of rocks somebody had put in them to keep bunnies out (not me!). Ron and I opened up several of them, on the chance that the parents would escort any remaining chicks to a safer place.

Lo and behold Ron soon discovered 2 which had managed to escape the slaughter! The photo above is of one. He is no more than 2 inches tall. The other one scurried under the wall (through the freshly opened drainage holes) before I could snap its picture. It was a paler, lighter colored baby, perhaps a female. I'm glad at least couple made it, I am still mad at the dog and wonder why the parents dared put a nest here. The Mama scurried them to the wash behind our yard, I hope they are safe now.

UPDATE on June 8.
Well later that day the quail family was back in the yard, apparently the chicks were too young to make a significant move, or for some other instinctual reason of which I am unaware.  So over the weekend we kept Petey under a tight rein.  I was able to get a few more pictures of them, below.  Yesterday morning they were nowhere to be found, and I can't hear the rest of the covey calling from the wash any longer, so we assume they've finally moved to a safer place.  I am wary of cleaning the pool leaf catcher again though, afraid of what I may discover.  It was sweet to watch the tiny 2 surviving chicks over a couple of days though.  I can't say I'm terribly impressed with the parents protective tactics though.

Above, mama quail watches the chicks who are at the base of the wall... whenever she'd hop out of sight they would start peeping and running in circles, which is why I thought her continuing to do that was not a very protective move!  When she would stay with them, they'd quietly sit with her under the shrubs, well hidden.

  Here they are the last afternoon we saw them around the yard, the next morning there was no sign of them.  There are still some bowl shaped 'nests' under the shrubs they spent the most time around... pretty easy nest construction, and not too effectively camouflaged.  God speed little quails, you'll need it!  ;o)


  1. Aw, that is such a heartwarming story!

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