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:
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.