Raising Californian Quail in captivity has never been, and never will be easy. Their nervous character and wild instincts make them very unsuitable to captivity. Unfortunately, because of their disappearance from the wild in New Zealand, they will have to be multiplied in caged conditions, should we want to preserve this pretty little bird. The cavalier attitude of New Zealanders regarding nature will probably prevail and our efforts for conservation would have limited success – I know I am going to get a lot of criticism because of this statement, but with New Zealand and Australia being the number one countries in the world causing species loss, my argument is more or less proven.
Survival rates of Californian Quail during their first few weeks seem to be abnormally low, and I have adopted a number of strategies and designs to try and overcome this problem – all with varying levels of success, but none solving the problem entirely.
My latest survival strategy however seems to have addressed many of the problems. Instead of sending my old Coturnix coturnix quail hens to the stock pot, I selected a number the calm and motherly ones as foster mothers for the Californians. I put the mothers into the brooders a few days before the Californian chicks hatch so they can get acquainted with the environment and the warm conditions. When the chicks hatch I place them straight into the brooder with their new mother. Her presence seems to have multiple positive effects on the chicks – i.e. she teaches them to eat and drink immediately, calms them down and also broods them. The end result is that the little chicks have shelved their desire to become Kamikaze Pilots every time I want to change food or water. Everybody seems calm and happy and mortality for the last four groups, at five weeks of age, each with their own foster mother, has been almost zero (lost one).
There are a number of younger groups at present, each with their foster mothers and they are very calm and doing well. I do notice that some foster mothers are better at the job than others and will continue selecting the better ones, even though their has been no difference in mortality rate between the groups.
Going back to nature can teach us a lot!!