|Above: Father Quail with his 1 week old son|
1. First, a little about Quail
Readers of this blog may have read some of my posts on 'Key Themes' in children's literature before. As well, some will know that I like birds and you may have seen my post titled 'Birds in Children's Literature: 35 Great Books to Read'. This post shares a thematic unit of work that has a focus on a very particular type of the bird - the quail!
In the last few years I've been keeping some native Australian birds and have loved caring for them and watching them have young and rearing them. Some of my favourite birds are quail. As a young child I had the chance to keep some Australian native King Quail and experience the joy of seeing their eggs hatch to reveal young who from birth could feed, run and act with a degree of independence. The King Quail does well in captivity and breed rather easily and provide hours of interest for adults and children.
Above: Two chicks seek the protection of an aunt.
We always love it when animals take on almost human qualities and even quails do things at times that remind us of special human qualities (Anthropomorphism). Here are some of the characteristics I've observed:
- They arrange themselves into family groups with typically one male and 2-3 females
- They defend this nuclear family against outsiders, especially another male quail. Their presence will result in aggressive attacks from all the adults in the family group.
- The young are cared for by mother, father, aunts and even some of the older chicks.
- The male defends the territory by making its beautiful call, puffing its wings out, and ruffling its feathers as it rushes towards you when you get close to the chicks.
- Once the chicks grow to the adult stage they move on in the wild to form their own family groups. In captivity males need to be separated when nearing an adult stage, but daughters are less keen to leave.
- Unlike human babies, the chicks are able to eat, drink and scavenge food within minutes of hatching. I watched one of my chicks just 4 days old steal a live meal worm from its father and swallow it whole (probably not so good for it as it was bigger than its head).
- They can challenge their parents in the first days for their share of the food and like to scurry around in a playful way.
- They also respond well to the human voice and eventually will take food from known handlers.
It's hardly surprising that these cute birds would have had a number of children's books written about them, or with quail of one type or another as central characters. Your children might simply enjoy some of the books that follow or they could become part of an integrated unit for a class, or a home project for others. Here are some books that might be part of a unit of study. I follow this with a plan for a unit of work
2. Some Books on Quails
'The Hunter and the Quail', by Nazli Gellek
'Quail Can't Decide', by Jacquelyn Reinach
This is one of the forty books in the Sweet Pickles series. These are all set in the fictional town of Sweet Pickles and are about anthropomorphic animals with different personalities and behavior. There are 26 animals—one for each letter of the alphabet. Quail has an interesting problem; she can't make up her mind how she will spend a dollar. What will she do?
'How the Quail Earned His Topknot', by Richard Oldenburg & illustrated by Elizabeth Lauder
A young quail loves running so much that he's never even tried to fly. All the other quail tease him and think he's strange. Tired of being made fun of, he decides to learn to fly as well. The quail enters a contest that requires him to run and fly, and he's set to race against a fast road runner bird. Will his running skills come in handy? Has he had enough practice flying so he can win the race? This cute story teaches children to value each other's differences. Richard Oldenburg has included science as an integral component in his teaching career. A graduate of California State University, Long Beach, he has been a teacher and administrator at all levels of education. A member of the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators, as well a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature, he continues to write on animal themes. In his spare time Oldenburg concentrates on golf, fishing, and spending time with the grandchildren.
This may well be the most popular quail book of all. It is a bestseller and acclaimed classic. It tells of a little bird who preferred human companionship to other quail.
GQ GQ. Where Are You?: Adventures of a Gambel’s Quail, by Sharon I. Ritt & illustrated by Nadia Komorova
'Quails : Amazing Pictures and Facts about Quails', by Breanne Sartori [Non-fiction]
'The Quail Club', by Carolyn Marsden [For Older Readers, 10+]
Oy lives in America now, but she loves learning traditional Thai dances almost as much as being in the Quail Club - five friends who meet after school to hatch and care for baby quail. When their teacher announces a talent show, Oy knows how proud her family would be to see her step onstage in her gold-threaded dress from Thailand. But bossy Liliandra vows to kick Oy out of the club if she won't team up for a very different kind of dance. In this finely crafted novel, Carolyn Marsden explores what it takes to be a true friend and still be true to yourself.
3. What might an integrated unit on quails look like?
Here is a sample unit that children in grades Two to Four would enjoy.
a) Introduction & Observation
There are varied ways you could begin the unit. This includes:
Read one of the books above and discuss and perhaps simply enjoy and discuss it the first time. After this perhaps reconsider it and see what it teaches us about quails, including their habits, characteristics, food, family patterns, enemies, food and so on.
Or, have a friend or contact (perhaps even a local pet shop) bring in a quail (or two) to show the class. This would need to be done carefully and probably with quail used to human handling as they are generally shy creatures. Alternatively, you could show them a video of a group of quail either wild or in captivity. The class could observe them and discuss what they saw. How did they move? What were some of their habits? What was their food? Were there differences between male and females?
b) Learning about their habitat & life
Using varied resources (books, film, observation, talk by a handler etc) consider the habitat of the quail, food, shelter, nesting habits, reproduction, food.
There are many ways that students could respond to their reading, viewing or direct observations. This could include:
- Draw a quail and label its physical characteristics.
- Have your students create a picture story board of their observations of quail.
- Attempt some creative writing about quail (e.g. a simple haiku poem, a simple graphic novel or wordless picture book).
- Offer a series of photographs of quail and ask your students to add a caption to each one.
- Perhaps several students could do some further research on one aspect of the life of quail