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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Japanese Quail

In honor of Valentine's Day, I will provide a look into the birds and the bees - well, actually, just the birds, but a bit about how birds do it. "It" being "have sex". Beats me why I am envious of birds, but there you go.

I was reading the January 2018 issue of Livestock & Science—because I’ve never read it before—and I learned that better meat quality and lipid stability in Japanese quail could be achieved by simply adding a mushroom-based supplement to its feed.

What I took away from that, was “WTF are Japanese quail?!?!

The Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, is a species of Old World quail found in East Asia.

Although I have never seen a live quail, I think I would have a 50-50 chance of correctly identifying one over say, a partridge, if you showed me a photo.

I'm pretty sure I've eaten quail at least a half-dozen times in my life, but since I've never had a great sense of taste, I couldn't tell you if it was spectacular or not, or if it tasted just like chicken... I wonder what people used as a comparison 150 years ago before chicken became such a mainstay of our human diet.

"Mmmm, that's good quail." (said in his best Johnny Carson character voice)
"That's chicken."
"El bomb-o." (said in his best Johnny Carson character voice)

Although around since Noah let the animals off the ark, the Japanese quail was only recognized as a distinct specials in 1983, as every foreigner visiting Japan before that thought the Japanese were being funny when they described the bird as a "Japanese quail."

(Editor's Note: Y'see, the Japanese like to tell you when certain things in Japan are true Japanese items, such as Japanese chopsticks, Japanese kimono, and Japanese rice. I was just making a jodan (joke). Ba-dum-bum!)

Wherefore Art Thou?
Nowadays, while being farmed for its meat in the U.S., the Japanese quail has a large wild population in Russia, India, Korea, China, and Japan, and has even been found in Turkey, Africa, namely Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar and Egypt.

The Japanese quail, like all quail, is a ground-living species—usually (though it can fly short distances), and prefers the safety of dense vegetation to avoid predators, living in grassy fields and bushes near rivers, and tall agricultural fields like oats and barley.

While the bird can also be found in meadows, steppes and some mountain areas, there is usually a water source fairly close by.

Size Matters
The male and female of the bird do have marked differences.

For example,  the female's breast feathers have plenty of dark spots amongst the pale feathers, while the male bird's breast feathers are more uniform in showing a dark reddish-brown, and do not have any dark spots.

The same reddish-brown coloring appears on the male's cheek, while the female's cheek is more of a cream-color.
Japanese quail: Male on the left, female on the right.

And... the male Japanese quail is smaller in size (weight) than his female counterpart.

At an average of 90grams, the Japanese quail is slightly smaller than the common quail (96grams), but was famed for its ability to produce eggs at a high rate, laying up to 300 eggs each per year, with an efficient feed-to-egg ratio that makes it a profitable bird.

I've Eaten Quail, But What Do Quails Eat?
Hey - you ever wonder what a Japanese quail eats? I have and do! They eat grass seeds, such as white millet (no gluten - so it can be used in diets of people who can not eat wheat) and panicum (a species of tall 1-3 meter high grass of which there are some 450 different varieties) which doesn't answer my question. But, they also eat bugs, their larvae, and even small invertebrates such as mealworms.

Drinking is usually done at the beginning and end of the day, but will, depending on hydration needs, also load up at various points of the day.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Japanese Quail Sex But Were Afraid To Ask
Unlike the penguin, the Japanese female quail will partner up with one, sometimes two, and even more male counterparts.

The birds tend to breed more in the summer time, when the male testes increase in size... wait... is that a thing?

As for mating... the Japanese quail is kindda kinky.

The male Japanese quail grabs the neck of the female and mounts her, at which point the male then extends his cloaca by curving his back in an attempt to initiate cloacal contact between him and the female.

His what now? Cloaca? It's safe for work, but I'm going to let you look it up, if you wish.

You know that whole birds and the bees crap? Us humans aren't learning from most of the birds.

Most birds reproduce using their cloaca; this occurs during a cloacal kiss in most birds. Birds that mate using this method touch their cloacae together, in some species for only a few seconds, sufficient time for sperm to be transferred from the male to the female.

Now, not all birds use the cloaca. Some, such as the ostrich, cassowary, kiwi, goose, and some species of swan and duck, they have a cloaca, but do not use it for reproduction, instead using the old phallus.

Back to the Japanese quail:

If cloacal contact is achieved, insemination of the female will be exhibited by distinguishable foam present in the female's cloaca.

After successfully mating with a female, the male characteristically performs a distinctive strut.

Females will either facilitate the mating attempts of the male by remaining still and squatting in order to ease the access of the male to her cloaca or impede the attempts of the male by standing tall and running away from him.

Females can also induce the initial sexual interactions by walking in front of a male and crouching.

And, proving that I was wrong in my assessment earlier on the birds and the bees, male Japanese quail that act aggressively towards a female Japanese quail during the mating ritual have been shown to reduce successful matings.

Let that be a lesson to you. For humans, there's making love and then there's screwing. While reproduction can come from screwing, planned parenthood is usually the result of love... or in the case of the Japanese quail - sex.

Eggsactly So
Did you know that after eggs are laid, the female is the one that looks after the eggs over its approximate 16 day period before hatching. During incubation, apparently the female becomes highly intolerant of the male! Really! And no amount of foot rubs or pickles and ice cream seem to help diffuse the situation. (That line was a joke.)

Normal color Japanese quail egg and white Japanese quail egg. Image by メルビル
Now... as you can see from the image above, there are different colors top the Japanese quail egg. They are generally mottled, however with a background color of white to blue to pale brown. Egg size can depend on the size of the female, with the older bird laying a bigger egg.

Even though the Japanese quail is a water drinker at least twice a day, it does not bathe in it, as it will bathe in dust several times a day, using its legs and bill to rake the ground to loosen up the ground and then use its wings to toss the dusty mess up into the air while shaking its feathers to ensure it gets a good coating... it's like Shake and Bake.

But what it does do is help remove annoying parasites and prevent the same from adhering to it.

While not endangered, the Japanese quail is a "threatened species"... while there was a decent industry in Japan regarding the eggs, WWII played a large role in the demise of the bird stock... only this time the Japanese did not eat it into extinction. Read about that true story HERE.

Birds that had been bred for their egg production and birds bred for their song type - decimated.

In the wild, with the Japanese quail numbers down, researchers began breeding the Japanese quail with the common quail to boost wild stocks.

The Final Frontier
Lastly, Japanese quail have been and are used in biomedical research around the world.

In fact, the USSR had previously sent Japanese quail eggs into space aboard the Salyut 6 (1977), Bion 5 (1979), and Mir space station, with eggs on Mir successfully incubated and hatched in March of 1990.  

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image of Japanese quali: Ingrid Taylar - Flickr: Mikiko the Quail


  1. Don’t be a cloaca. (That’s pretty LGBTQ.) I was laughing so hard from quail sex on down, I could barely breathe. Thanks! (I needed that.)

    1. It truly was the least I could do. :)
      You're welcome! All these compliments make me feel swell. :)-