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The Quail

The quail is the smallest of the poultry tribe, and is a pretty little

bird, something like a partridge, but not so large. I dare say you have

sometimes seen quails alive in a poulterer's shop, where they are often

displayed in long narrow cages, and are sadly crowded together. The

quail is a migratory bird, except in those countries blessed with an

equable temperature, such as Italy, Portugal, etc., where it is to be

ound in all seasons. In warm weather the quail visits our island, but

nearly all those sold in London are brought from France, where they are

caught in hundreds by means of a quail-pipe as it is called. This is a

little instrument which imitates the cry or call of the quail so

successfully that the bird is deceived, and, following the note, is

easily ensnared. Africa is the head-quarters of quails in the winter,

but in the summer they come in vast flocks and take up their abode in

Europe and Asia. In the Crimea and Egypt they are caught in immense

numbers whilst exhausted by their long flight. We are told in Stade's

Travels in Turkey, that, "near Constantinople in the migrating season,

the sun is often nearly obscured by the prodigious flights of quails,

which alight on the coasts of the Black Sea, near the Bosphorus, and are

caught by means of nets spread on high poles, planted along the cliff,

some yards from its edge, against which the birds, exhausted by their

passage over the sea, strike themselves and fall." The Arabs also catch

quails by thousands in nets, when they visit Egypt, about harvest time.

The observations of modern travellers have confirmed in a very

interesting manner the account given us of quails in the Bible. Do not

you remember reading of the multitude of quails that were sent by God as

food for the children of Israel whilst wandering in the desert, when

they grew tired of the sweet manna God had rained upon them from heaven,

and desired flesh? "They gathered the quails," we are told, in great

quantities, "and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about

the camp."--Numbers xi. 32. This was done in order to dry them, and this

method of preserving not only quails, but other flesh and fish, is still

followed by the Arabs. There is one particular island off the coast of

Egypt where myriads of quails are caught, and, being stripped of their

feathers, are dried in the burning sand for about a quarter of an hour,

after which they are sold for as little as a penny a pound. The crews

of those vessels which in that season lie in the adjacent harbour, have

no other food allowed them. The quails, when migrating, fly so near the

ground that they are very easily knocked down and secured. The nest of

the quail is very simple. It consists merely of a few dried sticks in a

wheat-field, and contains from twelve to eighteen pretty little green

and brown eggs. The quail itself is very prettily coloured with black,

chestnut, yellow, and white, and the males have a black collar round

their throats. The old Romans would not eat the flesh of the quail,

because it feeds on the grains of a poisonous plant. But we moderns are

not so scrupulous, and find it very delicious food. I am sorry to tell

you this little bird is so fond of fighting that there was an old

proverb, "as quarrelsome as quails in a cage." And the Greeks and

Romans kept quails on purpose to see them fight, as some people did

formerly (I hope not now), game-cocks. Even to this day this is the

custom in India and China.

I always like to conclude with a pretty story for you if I can, but I

can find nothing likely to amuse you about the quail, except the

following account of the Virginian quail, related by a gentleman

residing in Canada. He "happened to have above a hundred at one period

alive, and took much pleasure in the evening, watching their motions

where they were confined. As it grew dusk, the birds formed themselves

into coveys or parties of twelve or fifteen in a circle, the heads out

and tails clustered in the centre. One bird always stood guard to each

party, and remained perfectly stationary for half an hour, when, a

particular _cluck_ being given, another sentinel immediately took his

place, and relieved him with as much regularity as any garrison could

boast. It became a matter of further curiosity to observe how they would

meet the extra duty occasioned by the havoc of the _cook_. For this also

a remedy was found, and the gentleman remarked with admiration that, as

their number decreased, the period of watch was extended from a half to

a whole hour, in the same form, and with unfailing regularity."