Chris Myers was trimming junipers in her yard in Bear Valley Springs when she discovered a nest of approximately 9 unhatched California Quail eggs hidden underneath low-hanging vegetation. This was in autumn, long after nesting season was over, so these speckled eggs represented an unsuccessful nesting attempt. The nest was located under junipers at the top of the retaining wall seen in the photo.
California Quail (Callipepla californica) usually build nests on the ground, though they occasionally place their nests up to 10 feet high in very dense foliage. Like most ground-nesting birds, their eggs are heavily speckled to aid in camouflaging them from the hungry eyes of predators. Birds that are strict cavity nesters, like Barn Owls, for example, have pure white eggs, since their hidden eggs don't need cryptic coloration.
Quail hens typically lay clutches of 12 to 16 eggs. This takes two to three weeks, since they only lay one egg a day, and sometimes skip a day. The mother doesn't begin incubating any of the eggs until the entire clutch has been laid. She starts incubating them all at the same time, so they all hatch the same day — even if they were laid weeks apart.
You can see quail couples in the spring after they have paired off, going about their daily foraging together as close-knit partners but with no babies yet, and you might wonder "How come they're not nesting?" when in fact they already are — they are just waiting until the clutch is complete before they start staying on the nest.
In the case of the eggs that Chris photographed, the hen may have succumbed to a predator, or something may have disturbed the quail couple and caused them to abandon the nest.
Quail chicks are among nature's most photogenic babies, and local residents delight when the first new babies of nesting season appear.
The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) word for California Quail is taara, pronounced TAH-rrrah with a rolled "r" sound.
NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: email@example.com.