Sunday, 21 October 2012

Life with Quail Resumes...

It is now October and many things have changed since I graduated from Animal Health Tech school. I have a job in Prince Rupert, BC that I am enjoying very much, and I am enjoying living here much more than I expected. Brita has retired from her short career learning new behaviours as my work takes up a lot of my time, but I feel our journey exploring a quail's ability to learn was well worth it!

My journey with quail is not over, however. I think as long as I draw breath it will never be over. Quail have been the one thing in my life that has never ceased to interest me.

Living in Rupert comes with its challenges in the quail-lifestyle. For starters, I am living in an apartment complex. Brita and my cat Thor are permitted, but as far as animals go, that is all. I thought that would be okay, but it is not. I have 50 coturnix eggs in an incubator at the moment. I can't help it. Quail are an addiction and I have fallen off the waggon.

These quail are going to Terrace for a friend as soon as they hatch, but I am in the process of finding a house to buy where I will be free to do what I want in. Quail and other small animals like rabbits are prohibited in Prince Rupert, which is also going to be a challenge. This is a coastal town, not a farming town, and people are a little distanced from the keeping of animals in the backyard (other than cats and dogs) compared to other places I have lived. In my old neighbourhood, everyone had chickens in their yard - here, everyone has a boat.

The obvious solution is that my quail must be kept in the house, of course.

No big deal, right? Even a shed would work. Quail are not particularly noisy, not like a rooster anyway. But there is a certain stigma about keeping "poultry" (ie Dirty Chickens) in your living quarters that I just won't be able to escape. But I think that one room with adequate ventilation kept very clean would not turn my house into a barn. Quail are small creatures, and a few cages, perhaps with 2 dozen birds or so, would be completely manageable. From my experience, dogs and cats are noisier and smellier and more work.

My goal with quail is a lot smaller scale than raising them by the hundreds and having every colour, every variety, every species producing eggs for distribution around North America. I want to have enough birds to get people started in the hobby - whether they want a few for eggs or meat or a couple as house-pets. I want kids to experience how wonderful these little birds are, and to bring a little nature into their lives, maybe even spark some interest in birds, nature, wildlife, and the natural world. Even just introduce them to having some empathy for animals. Sharing quail with the world will make the world a better place, I know it - just a little bit at a time!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Graduation Day

In a couple hours I will be receiving my diploma as a graduated Animal Health Technologist. Very exciting! I am not a fan of ceremony etc. but am looking forward to the last dinner with all my classmates.

Brita came home from Dr. Mann's house yesterday. At the end of the month we will be moving to Prince Rupert as I will be starting work as an AHT, or "Veterinary Technitian/Technologist" at Pacific Coast Veterinary Hospital. Brita and I, along with Thor, our new cat, have a very nice two bedroom apartment where they are even ALLOWED - so I don't have to go to the trouble of sneaking them in and hiding them from the landlord which is a bonus. Once we are settled I plan to continue working with Brita on her training videos.

While working on my slide show of the grads for tonight, I was browsing through some old photos of the quail project back when they first hatched and wanted to re-touch on something I find amazing. Nature and its miracles are such a powerful learning tool. Whether it be baby quail hatching, birdwatching, caterpillars turning into butterflies, migrating salmon... people all over the world in every culture are awed by nature. As a class of Animal Health Technologists, we work with animals every single day. One might think that the novelty would wear off after a while, but there is always something new to inspire us.

When I hatched these quail in our classroom, the people in our two classes were between the ages of 18 and 40. I watched them turn back into little kids again, smiling and giggling and squealing with delight at these little creatures. If I had one wish it would be that every kid in public school gets the opportunity to watch some birds hatch and raise them in the classroom. Quail are a hit because they are so infinetly tiny and they mature so fast, and can even be kept in the classroom until adulthood. When I was in grade three our class hatched chickens and it was very special.

I put together a little montage of smiling faces from our class back in November...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Quail, exams, freedom, more quail - in that order.

It's been a long 2 weeks but I have finally completed all the exams I need to take to become an Animal Health Technologist (save my national exam, the VTNE - but that's a few weeks down the road right now). I haven't had much time to work with Brita on any new stunts, but she has been getting her share of mischief time. Quail are an excellent antidote to good time management. Instead of studying, I can bring Brita out to play on my desk. When she acts silly I can video it and put it on Youtube. There's an easy death of 3 hours that I would have otherwise used staring blankly at my textbooks pretending to study.

Brita is going to spend the next four weeks at my teacher's place while I am on practicum again, where she will have free run of a large room in the chicken coop with another quail hen for company. The remaining others are going to a new home this week, and when I get back, Brita's new companion may or may not come home with me too. I haven't decided whether I want to keep Brita as a singleton or have a companion for her again. It was a shame what happened to Blondie, her old companion, but I admit it has been much easier to train Brita without another quail as a distraction. We shall see. She seems to get along just fine on her own.

Now that I am finished schooling for a while, I'd like to start expanding the information section on this site to include more articles on the husbandry and breeding of coturnix as a hobby. I have been spending some time on Internet forums in an attempt to get a feel for what kinds of questions people are asking and what kinds of challenges new quail keepers find themselves up against. I never intended this blog to be about anything more than Brita's clickertraining, but I'm for than just a fan of training quail - I'm a quail fanatic all-around. Hopefully I can conglomerate some useful knowledge on this site to help people get started on their journey with quail. Because quail are awesome. I just don't know how else to explain it.

When I am finally working and living at an actual house instead of on campus, I can expand my quail operation to include more than one contraband quail living under the desk in my dorm (and I have adopted a cat from our school program who is going to live in the dorm with myself, Brita, and Puffy Figgis the green-spotted pufferfish for a whole ten days - which should prove interesting).

"Thor" (he came with that name)
And I got to personally tattoo, microchip, and neuter him! >:)

I am planning on moving to Prince George, BC where I have family and friends and start working at a veterinary clinic as an AHT, find a place where I can start my quail hobby up again from scratch and eventually buy a wee bit of land where I can go hog wild with any hobby I want, and no landlord or city by-law to stop me! (ie hide from).

Monday, 23 April 2012

365 Animal Project 2012: Meet Brita

365 Animal Project 2012: Meet Brita

Joanne Cowbrough-Strom of Cowbrough Photography took some time out to do a little photoshoot with Brita last week. Joanne is embarking on a project where she aims to photograph a different individual animal every day for a year. Her photos are fantastic!

Brita was hatched in an incubator and raised in a brooder with 12 other quail, and spent a month at my teacher's farm in an indoor free-run coop before coming to live with me on campus for our training project. She has never had the opportunity to run free on the grass, though. She can cross than one off on her bucket list as of last Sunday when Joanne spent some time photographing her. Brita discovered that she really liked scratching in grass and dirt for ants. Once we are done at the university and get a place of our own hopefully there will be many more sunshine-and-grass-filled days!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Housing for Quail

I've had a few people express some interest in trying quail lately, so I thought I'd re-touch on some of the basics with a new video I found on

(caution, I believe there is an F-bomb somewhere in this video :)

This tractor-style setup was designed for California Quail, which as native to North America and have only been kept in captivity for the past 50 years or so. As a result they are still quite flighty and wild and due to their nature need a lot more space, vertical flying area, perches, etc. than the well-domesticated coturnix. This video gives you a good idea just how different Californias are - Gambel's quail, scaled quail, mountain quail, montezuma quail and to a lesser extent bobwhite quail are all similar in this regard. Bobwhites are more intensely bred in agriculture and have adjusted to life in captivity a lot more than the other species listed.

This setup would also be fantastic for coturnix or for a couple of small bantam chickens like Belgian d'Uccles, old English game hens, etc. In a ground pen one cannot stock the pen with as many individuals as with a wire-bottomed pen for sanitation reasons, though. This pen is 12 feet by 3 feet (36 sqaure feet) so one should easily fit 36 coturnix and in a pinch up to double that number if the pen had a wire floor. Also, with a wire floor one could prop this cage up to waist level so the caretaker didn't have to bend to get into it. California quail are not birds that are easily handled, so in this scenario the only reasons to go in the cage at all is to top up feed and water. In a coturnix cage where the birds tend to only use nest boxes 75% of the time, you have to go easter egg hunting every day. Californias tend to lay a couple clutches of eggs per year where as coturnix lay all year long.

To make this setup ideal for a few pet coturnix (say, a dozen birds) would be easy and the birds would have a fantastic home. I would either put a wire floor on it and raise it up 3 feet off the ground, or put a plywood floor on it and make it so that the whole side of the cage can come off for cleaning the bedding (a layer of wood shavings). Another option is to make it 6 feet tall so a person can walk right in (it wouldn't benefit the birds much as coturnix rarely fly and don't utilize vertical space very much - mostly just for a human's benefit to have it taller!).

There are as many different setups out there as there are quail keepers - I thought this was a great example.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Video 13: The Knock-Down Target

A bit of comic relief this week at the expense of poor Justin Bieber and friends. Brita already knows how to target a red circle, so I changed it up and made it a vertical target that she has to knock down. After watching this video several times I realised that I am making a fundamental error here - my timing sucks, to be blunt. Instead of clicking for the action (pecking the target) I am clicking the result (the target falls down). So I would like to do a bit more of this and fix that mistake and start shaping her for not just a peck but a strong, pushing peck like the one she game Kim Kardashian (at least I think it's Kim, I don't know one of those girls from the other honestly). Brita sometimes pecks and pulls the target towards her, then it slowly falls to the ground against her body. I would like to see the targets go down hard and fast and then get her up to doing several in a row - maybe the whole cast of Jersey Shore?

On another note, I spent all day at the BC Animal Health Technologists Association Annual Conference and got to listen to Dr. Sophia Yin speak all day. I have the option to go to another 2 days of lecture by her and I'm going to do it. She is a remarkable woman and great behaviourist and I am so glad I have the option to hear her speak for a whole three days! Today she spoke about the basics of behaviour including operant and classical conditioning, desensitisation and counter conditioning, and low-stress handling restraint for cats and dogs (the subject of her latest book - which Brita used as a prop [literally!] in her last video). Dr. Yin tossed me a clicker for answering a question. I'm more than a bit of a geek - this was kind of like meeting a rock star for me.

Unfortunately I missed the trade show part of the conference which is my favourite part, but I discovered one of our clinic cats to be very sick and he needed medical attention. By the time we got him fixed up the trade show was over! I enjoy speaking to all the veterinary product reps and salespeople so I am very bummed out - but thankfully our kitty should be okay.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Video 12: Perfecting the Platform

I ran into a bit of a pickle this week when I started training Brita again. She remembered the red ball right away, but was having a hard time with the green square and the platform. She would circle it again and again, always keeping her eye on it, and occasionally step on it or graze it with her foot. I felt there was something holding us back from making further progress. Quail are highly visual, as are most birds, and so far I have been giving her visual cues: i.e. see a red circle = peck it; see a green square = step on it. But thinking about the anatomy of a quail made me wonder if she could see the square while she was standing on it. Her eyes are on either side of her head and they have great panoramic vision, but her feet are quite far back behind her head, unlike a human. If my theory was correct, she could not see the green square when she was on it and therefore did not have any sensory input about what she was doing right. I decided to try using a square of non-skid shelf liner or "earthquake cloth" instead. It has a spongy texture that she can feel without having to see it. Once I replaced the green paper square with that, she caught on right away and was consistently standing on the platform every time and staying there for several moments within a couple of minutes.

For the next session that afternoon, I tried sticking a book under the platform to bump it up a bit. She didn't give the book a second glance and continued to jump on the platform, so I tried another book and another book until the platform was over four inches high. Each time she was not intimidated to jump up! I put a red-ball-on-a-string device beside the platform and she immediately knew what to do with it. As a matter of fact, she seemed so focused on the ball that she didn't want to jump down off the platform to get her treat. I don't know if she thought if she just pecked and pecked some more the treat would get closer to her so she wouldn't have to jump down or what.

Tonight is Animal Health Technology Night at TRU and the people in my class are doing demos and presentations on all aspects of of what an AHT does. My station is Animal Behaviour and I am bringing Brita along to do a demo of the red ball and the platform. I'm also going to be working with a border collie named Kidd whom I have never worked with before. Should be fun!

I have some fun new ideas for what I want to do with Brita next. ow that I can get her to peck things and step on things, I can apply these basic behaviours to more complex scenarios. I would also like to teach her to pull things, but we'll see how far I get by the time exams come around.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Video 11: The Platform

It's been four weeks since Brita and I last had a training session - I've been on a three week clinical practicum and am slowly getting back into the routine of school and ready to start training again! Brita has spent her last few weeks molting and is getting in a nice new set of feathers, though she looks a little scraggly at the moment.

The Platform was something we worked on a week before I left - I've only just found the time to compile the highlights. I started with a short platform and got her to touch it, then put a foot on it, then two feet, and then to to stay there for at least a second. Then I bumped up the platform to be 3x as high. This confused her a bit because not only was the platform taller, it was a little bigger and it looked different. This might have been too many changes at once, so I went backwards with her and clicked her for simply touching it and over the course of a few sessions, got her to walk on it.

I would like to increase the height of the platform and get her to stand on it for a couple more seconds. This week I will mostly be doing review with her as we have a public demo to do at my university for Animal Health Technology night. I will not only be doing demos with Brita but with a border collie as well!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Taking a wee break!

If you've been following the blog you'll notice it's been a couple weeks since my last video - I'm currently on a 3 week practicum out of town and Brita is staying with a friend until I come home. I have video footage of her lasted stunt, which is standing on a short pedestal, but it might be a while before I get it up because I'm on wifi internet at the moment and loading takes a long time. Two more weeks before Brita and I get back at it with more learning!

About 10 days ago Brita and I did a presentation to a local 4H group and Brita performed both her Peck a Red Ball and Stand on a Green Platform in front of about 40 people. She hasn't been around that many people since she was a day old and wasn't the least bit concerned!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Green Square - A foot target

I wanted Brita to target something else, but with her feet instead of her beak. I chose something a different shape and colour. I started out with a very large one so that the chances of her stepping on it by accident were good. Once I captured the behaviour, I made the square smaller and smaller.

I also tried a new treat - mealworms! I read a study that said coturnix used in operant conditioning studies worked harder and longer for mealworms with less fasting, so I thought I would give them a try. They're a huge hit! Brita's getting good at getting several in one peck, though, so I have to be fast.

I am working on making the green square 3D and gradually increasing the height of it until I can get her to hop onto a little pedestal when the green square is on it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Brita's Ping Pong Ball

Once Brita was pecking at a red target as reliably as Blondie was, I took her a step further by introducing the target in 3D in the form of a red ping-pong ball. It takes her a minute to make the connection but once she gets it, she really goes for it. I was having a hard time not laughing when the ball went flying off the table a few times. I also tried putting the ball on a stick and holding it in positions she would have to reach for, and she does. Brita was a lot faster to learn to peck the target than Blondie - Brita began to peck when the red circle was still big so I captured that early and just whittled the size of the circle down.

Brita is actually a joy to work with. She is a little calmer than Blondie but a little more serious too. And she likes to cheat. A lot. She also makes it very clear when she thinks she has earned a click and she doesn't get one!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Epic Quail Eggs

Epic doesn't always mean big. Quail eggs are the perfect awesome party snack - they are bite sized, mild-flavoured eggs with the perfect proportion of white and yolk in each mouthful. Marinating them in bay leaf, mustard, pepper and dill-infused salt-and vinegar makes them irresistible! In this video I show each step in making them perfectly. Anyone who keeps quail often has so many eggs they don't know what to do with them - this is the answer!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Goodbye Blondie...

Unfortunately Blondie has passed away. When the lid was off of her cage last week, my feet startled her and she flushed up and hit her head on the underside of the desk. I am very angry at myself for letting this happen because this is something I should have anticipated - I have seen many quail do the same thing over the years. I took a weeks' break from the bird training and even wondered if I wanted to continue it. I have decided that I will continue to work with Brita. I have done a few sessions with her now and she is indeed a very different bird to work with - she is more wary or indifferent of new things and definitely more wary of what's going on around her. She burns out faster than Blondie and is not as fast, and always tries to cheat by trying to find out where the food went. She also insists on picking up a lot of the little granules of food that she spills. She is coming along, though. As a matter of fact, I got her to the point where Blondie was in half the time (but this may be because I too am learning!). What happened to Blondie was a terrible reminder for me to think about things. I had a quail once named Barbara who did the same thing. She didn't die but did damage to her inner ear as her ear was bleeding afterwards. A few months later she started to fall over and eventually could not get back up and I chose to put her down. Hard roofs kill quail. I take every precaution to build their cages appropriately but didn't think about the environmental factors. Under the desk, the desk itself is like a big roof. With animals, a lot of learning has a lot to do with context. I suppose it is the same for people too.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Video 8 - Blondie owns the target

Blondie has been catching on to stepping on the red target to get her food, and when she finally offers the behavior of pecking it, I get very excited and give her a few extra pecks. After a few tries she really catches on and I narrow my criteria - I still click for stepping on it, but she must have most of her foot on it - no grazing. Another session or so of this and she will only be pecking it. I move the target around to force her to actively look for it, and she does! I'm very happy with the progress after only one week. My next challenge will be putting the target on a stick to see if she will peck it off the ground.

Video 7 - Brita gets her chance

Brita finally gets some one-on-one attention. This is a super short session with her very own "clicker" which is an app I downloaded on my phone called Dog Whistle. It has a variety of different settings and I picked a fairly low one for Brita, since bird's ears are quite sensitive to sound. Because she hears the sound of the clicker all the time and gets nothing for it, the sound of the clicker means nothing to her. This new noise will be hers and hers alone. I just have to be careful to hold the button down for the same length of time every time to keep the sound consistent. Sometimes I tap it too lightly and the sound is too short. With a real clicker you don't have to worry about this much.Also, it is very easy to start moving the feeding hand at the same time the sound goes off. Ideally the sound should be first and the movement of the feeding hand after. After watching this video a couple times I realise this is something i am going to have to work on, especially when using my phone instead of the clicker.

Brita is not as "driven" as Blondie but once she gets the hang of it, she might get to be just as good. Her sessions are very short and so far she hasn't shown as much enthusiasm as Blondie. The different personalities of the two birds are interesting to observe!

Video 6 - Blondie narrows it down

Getting Blondie to start putting more or her foot down on the target. Thankfully I have figured out a solution to the "Where's Brita?" problem. When Blondie is having a session, Brita goes into the insulated box that I use to transport my fish. I put a soft towel on the bottom for her to rummage in. The box is light-proof and almost sound-proof, so whichever quail is inside can call all she wants and won't be heard. After 3 minutes, Blondie switches places with Brita and I can start training Brita. When they are both done they go back to their cage to eat their meal. It works great. Without the distraction of the other bird, both of them focus a lot better.

You can see Blondie start to think about pecking the target - the fact that she is offering new behaviours suggests that whatever logic a quail has is starting to kick in, and she is experimenting with new ways to try to get the food.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Video 5 - Blondie gets a target

This is Blondie's second session with a red paper target. I wish I would have filmed the first one. On her first session, I started out with a red circle that was about 8 inches in diameter. It was so big that she was bound to step on it occasionally, and I clicked her for those times. After about four or five clicks she caught on, so I wittled the circle down to 6 inches and tried again. Again, after 5 or 6 clicks, she had it. In this video I have the red target wittled down to about 4 inches. I click her whenever her foot touches it at first, and gradually increase my criteria by making her have more and more of her foot on it. If you watch carefully, you will start to see her actually look down at the target to see where it is and meaningfully put her foot on it. She still does not want to work long without Brita with her, but I have come up with a solution for that! (more later!)

Video 4 - Blondie gets fast

Blondie has learned to eat from the cup and anticipates getting the chance to eat. Both she and Brita have their food witheld about 8 hours overnight and 10 hours during the day. In the morning after each training session they get to eat until they are full and resting, and after each session at night they get a full dish of food for about four hours. In the paper by Ellen and T.W. Reese, "The Quail, Coturnix coturnix, as a Laboratory Animal" the authors found that the optimal time to fast the quail before conditioning a new behaviour was 17 hours. Once the behaviour was conditioned, however, the birds would perform them without any fasting at all. Brita and Blondie are on a similar feeding schedule to most pet dogs, which I think is fair.

I try a couple different things in this video. The first is to try to get Blondie working faster and longer by only giving her one peck at the dish. After a while she learns to make that first peck count. She is still wondering where Brita is when I have her on the table by herself. When Blondie loses focus I trade spots with Brita, but Brita doesn't even know how to get food from the cup and since she has been listening to the clicker for days and not getting anything out of it, the sound means nothing to her. Once I bring Blondie back, however, she starts mimicking Blondie and going for the food. Blondie is once again eager for the food and no longer distressed now that Brita is back. I watched this session several times and did some brainstorming about how to fix these little setbacks. Blondie has to be able to work on her own and must get used to not having Brita beside her all the time. Brita has to be be able to work uninterrupted if she is to learn anything at all.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Video 3: Charging the clicker with Blondie

Blondie seems to be the bird who gets it. She's curious and not afraid to check things out and experiment with her surroundings. I decide to start charging the clicker with her to teach her what the sound means - but there is a hang-up. Blondie gets very upset whenever she is separated from Brita. She starts to call for her friend and ignore the food. In order to get Blondie to focus, Brita has to be with her. I can only work with one bird at a time, however. For the time being I focus on Blondie, but I know I will have to work on separating them in the future. If I only end up training one quail, then that's fine too.

To charge the clicker, I hold the cup out of sight - either behind my hand or under the table - then I click and put the food right in front of Blondie's face where she can see it and be tempted to eat. At first I let her have a few pecks at the food since she misses the morsels with the first couple pecks. My next step will be getting her to work faster. She was completely full/bored by 6 minutes into the session, so I will aim to keep my sessions shorter - other trainers have suggested 2 minutes so that's what I'm going to go with.

Brita has a little slip when I move her away from the camera lens and it seems to startle her. Her body language suggests to me that she is a little anxious about her surroundings. Could there be something up above that's freaking her out a little? The sound of the wind rattling the window cover seems to irk her a little. I might need to work with Brita on her own a bit to get her more comfortable being out on the desk, and get both birds more comfortable being on their own.

I am using finely chopped hard boiled egg with some of their regular crumbles as a food reward.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Video 2 - Exploring Textures

Quail love textures. By textures, I mean things that they can feel - under their feet and beak. They use their beak to explore new things, and if they like it, they get their feet in there.

In the wild, quail have two normal behaviours that relate to this - scratching the ground with their beak and feet to search for morsels of food, and scratching in sand/dirt substrate in order to dust-bathe, which feels good and helps keep them free of external parasites. Both these behaviours are innate, meaning they are instinctive at birth. I have seen quail chicks only hours old "dust-bathe" under the comforting heat of an infrared lamp.

In this video I give Brita and Blondie two objects: a folded terrycloth towel and a flattened plastic grocery bag. They discover the towel immediately and begin pecking and scratching at it. Eventually they begin dust-bathing in it - which is rather counterproductive, since there isn't anything to "bathe" in - but when quail are really happy and feel really good, they dust-bathe, regardless of whether they have substrate. When I used to keep large numbers of quail I had them in large 10-foot cages with wire mesh floors to allow the droppings to fall through, and during their evening meal, some birds were so happy to be eating that they would dust-bathe between mouthfuls on the bare wire.

When I take the cloth away, both birds look a little perturbed for a moment but eventually go to explore the bag. Blondie gets right in there with the same enthusiasm, but Brita gets bored. When I replace the towel, Blondie abandons the bag and goes back to it. I have seen them seek out similar objects in my apartment - fuzzy slippers, laundry, etc. They seem to really like soft and squishable textures. They will also try to dust-bathe in any kind of substrate - fresh pine shavings, house-plant dirt, kitty litter boxes, etc.

I am starting to get a better idea of Brita and Blondie's personalities. Blondie is a lot more needy for Brita's company that Brita is for Blondie. If they are separated, Blondie will call again and again and ignore everything else around her, where as Brita will just carry on. Blondie, however, is usually the first to explore new objects and the most enthusiastic about them, and least likely to get bored. This makes me think that she might be the better candidate for clicker training.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Video 1: Introducing Brita and Blondie

Brita and Blondie are Coturnix quail, often referred to as Japanese quail. They were born on the 18th of November 2011, which makes them just over 8 weeks old at the time of this post. As a project for Animal Science class in my third semester of Animal Health Technology (Veterinary Technology) I built an incubator out of a beer cooler and ordered some quail eggs from a breeder in the Lower Mainland. 13 babies hatched and I raised them at our veterinary teaching facility until they were 4 weeks old. I transferred them to a teacher's house who had a coop for them and when I got back from Christmas holidays in January, chose two quail to take home with me for an extra-curricular project: clicker training quail.

Coturnix are the most remarkable bird I have had the pleasure to raise. They reproduce incredibly quickly, often laying eggs by 6 weeks of age and often out-producing most chickens when it comes to egg production. They are intensely curious about new things and are extremely motivated to find food, making them ideal subjects for clicker training. They are also very tolerant of human interaction. Chickens have been successfully clicker-trained to do a variety of behaviours, but I have yet to find any other videos online of other game birds being clicker trained. There are plenty of academic papers out there that have used coturnix for operant conditioning studies in a lab environment, but I wanted to try training some myself. I have raised hundreds of these birds over the year but never really stopped to explore their intricate behaviours!

Chicken Clicker Training:
(source: Youtube)

Blondie was the only female golden coturnix in the batch of quail I hatched. I wanted two quail so they would have each others' company but I needed to be able to tell them apart, so I took Blondie and a brown quail I named Brita. I needed females, not males, because the males crow loudly and harass the females to no end. Brita and Blondie were staying in a cage in the house and needed to be peaceful room-mates.

Housing and Care:

Brita and Blondie are staying in a clear Tupperware storage box measuring 30 inches long by 18 inches wide. The lid has been cut out and fitted with mesh for maximum ventilation. They have a 1 inch deep bedding of pine shavings with a removable shelf-gripper liner underneath which can be removed and machine washed. The shavings are changed twice a week or as needed. They have two raised water dishes that are cleaned daily, an enclosed sand box containing budgie grit for sandbathing and scratching, a hide-box that they can go in or jump on, and their food, which consists of 17% protein chicken layer crumble, is sprinkled on the bottom of their cage to encourage them to forage through the bedding to find it. This gives them mental stimulation during the day. Most of their daily food intake is given during or immediately after their training sessions, as both chickens and quail need to be a bit hungry to have motivation for food. They can still forage for food during the day, but get their main meal at night. (I have been trained by veterinarians and avian researchers and can accurately assess the body condition score on a bird, and I ensure they get enough to eat.) They also get time outside their room every day to explore around my room, and leave little presents for me to pick up.


In the next few weeks I want to see if I can get Brita and/ or Blondie to be able to perform a behaviour for a food reward. Depending on how fast/slow they learn, the possibilities are endless. This is also a learning experience for me and a chance for me to practice my clicker skills. I am also hoping to catch on video different observations I make about their behaviour. After only a week of working with them I already see many differences in their individual personalities.