Whether you want to keep quail for fun or their eggs and meat, you will probably wonder at some point if quail go broody and hatch their own eggs. Do you need an incubator to hatch quail, or can you rely on the quail hens’ maternal instincts?
Quail kept in captivity rarely go broody because they lack the natural habitat, which is a pre-requisite for brooding. Occasionally, quail may go broody if they have sufficient privacy and optimal conditions. Quail species that live in the wild rely on brooding to survive.
Do quail go broody?
For a quail to go broody, she needs a quiet, private place, where she can brood on the eggs undisturbed. Quail that live in the wild can easily find those hiding spots, where they can brood on their eggs. Bobwhite quail and California quail maintain the species by hatching out their own chicks.
Quail that live in captivity, don’t have the luxury of an ample habitat and hidig places most of the time.
Coturnix quail have been kept in captivity for many centuries, and they are often kept in small enclosures, which lack the privacy necessary to sit on the eggs for almost three weeks.
However, it’s not unheard of that quail hens have gone broody, and hatched their eggs in a home setting.
Quail usually go broody if they have an aviary setting with a lot of plants and private hiding places, where they can withdraw, and enjoy sitting on the eggs in solitude.
How do quail go broody?
Many homesteaders have found broody quail in their flock. Hello Homesteader describes this beautiful process in great detail on her blog.
Given ample space and natural elements, quails can become broody. This happens first by losing some feathers on their chest for skin-to-egg contact.
A period of stress precedes brooding, during which quails show interest in eggs and become territorial. Broody quails require a secluded nest with hay and sand for warmth.
Other hens may assist in egg-sitting but are chased away by the broody quail. During brooding, quails leave the nest multiple times.
When chicks hatch, the broody quail shows surprise and stress at first but guides them and shelters them under her wings.
Quail hens can brood 8-15 eggs at a time. These can be their own eggs as well as foster eggs. If you are gentle enough and your quail has a calm nature, you can even place eggs under her, and she will sit on them until they hatch.
The brooding period of quail is 16-18 days, as in the incubator. Any disturbance to the broody hen during this period can lead to the eggs not hatching.
Quail do not share brooding duties. In some other bird species, the male and the female will take turns to incubate the eggs, but this is not the case with quail. In fact, the quail hen doesn’t like having visitors around.
Occasionally, when she leaves the nest to go to eat or drink, another quail hen may take over for the time being but is immediately chased away when the broody quail is back.
Can quail go broody in a cage?
It’s highly unlikely for a quail to go broody in a cage or in a small enclosure, even if it’s in a quiet place. It would be impossible for her to incubate the eggs properly, given that there is no proper insulation.
Some of my quail hens like moving the eggs under their body with their beak when they are sitting in the sandpit of the cage, but they don’t show a prolonged interest in staying on the eggs.
Broody quail vs. incubator
An incubator is a man-made machine that replaces what was formerly done completely by nature.
It provides an optimal environment for the eggs to hatch. You can control every critical aspect of the incubation to get an excellent hatch rate, and you can hatch hundreds of eggs at once. You can get excellent hatch rates if you pay attention to the mission-critical aspects.
This is simply not possible when you keep quail on your homestead. If you rely on your quail to give you eggs and meat to feed your family, you need a system in place which you can control.
Not to mention that quail hens going broody doesn’t depend on you. You can provide the environment, but you don’t control the outcome.
Here is an idea if you want to experiment with broody quail.
Set up a separate aviary with ample space and some secluded spots. This is going to be the ideal environment where your quail may just go broody. Keep this area as little populated as possible, with just a handful of hens and maybe a rooster. This is your hobby playground.
Keep quail in a different cage to ensure that you have a constant supply of eggs for eating and incubating. This is your production area.
Take home message
In a world dominated by technology, the sight of a quail going broody and hatching her own eggs is a powerful reminder of the beauty and resilience of nature. Witnessing this innate instinct unfold is a testament to the wonders that still exist.
If you want to experience this wonder with your own eyes, a little bit of space, a little bit of planning, a little bit of DIY, and a bit of patience may get you there.