Quail diary

Quail for eggs — life in a London garden

Quail diary – 4. Identity crisis

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Quail qui?

Quail qui?

We’ve had many pets in the past — cats, rats, guinea-pigs, hamster, a goldfish the size of a small cod, and even a house-trained rabbit who had to be banished to the garden after he developed an expensive taste for coaxial cables — but I’ve never had a pet before that I couldn’t identify, or name.

Even after a month, my quail remain resolutely strangers; an ankle-high row of black beady eyes and ruffled brown plumage. They scurry like Liliputians around my wellies, diving over and under each other into the deep camouflage of the bedding straw, scolding if cornered and exploding into vertical takeoff if touched. I can’t tell them apart. Not even with a camera.

I’ve spent hours on hands and knees over the past weeks, scanning for clues: photographing heads, tails, and eyes, to pore over on screen. But it was no use. Until I discovered the feet.

It has to be said: their feet are not a quail’s best feature, being rather larger than you might expect for such small bodies and having long, boney toes that remind forcibly of the witchy fingers children wave at hallowe’en. Also, they are not always very clean and anyway recognition by feet at speed on damp earth or straw is not easy. However, by their feet shall ye know them.

The first to be named was Emmet, whose love of dust bathing and disdainful indifference to my proximity revealed two misshapen toes. Oeuf followed, with one odd toe. After that they began to blur again. At least two of them have perfect feet, and two have stumpy rear claws (hallux). But which is which?

I gave up. I bought leg rings. Ten different colours, found on eBay. Junior Teen folded herself into the run to help me wrestle them on. Oeuf is now purple, but Emmet remains defiantly ringless – having evaded arrest. Perhaps I ought to have called her the Artful Dodger? The others are now Tom, Dick, Harry (for Harass, don’t ask), Glenda and Nugget. But I still can’t tell them apart.

Meanwhile, we’re building a taller run. This grovelling has got to stop.

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