‘Cool’ Mr. Quail
Redlands man shares unique bond with abandoned Gambel's quail
Maybe it’s that little plume of dark feathers atop his head that lends him such a purposeful air, as though wherever he’s going he needs to get there right away.
Call it the topknot of busy-ness, leading the way as he goes about doing what he needs to do — which includes, but is not limited to, eating the chickens’ food, standing sentry on the back fence and chasing the dog.
All that spazzy bundle of ecru curls wants to do is run in frantic, aimless circles around the backyard when out of nowhere, ha-HA, Mr. Quail darts from under a teal Adirondack chair in the middle of the lawn and rushes after the hapless canine. His feather plume bobs as he sprints faster than a ground-based bird roughly the dimensions of a prize-winning turnip should be able to.
Meanwhile, the six chickens obliviously peck around in the compost box.
This has become a normal tableau in Paul Sanders’ Redlands backyard since March, when he found a tiny, shivering Gambel’s quail chick the size of a walnut under his front porch. Since then, the literally named Mr. Quail has grown into a glossy, sassy bird who struts around the house like he owns the place.
“He’d lost his covey,” Sanders explained, “and they lose their body heat really fast.”
He admitted that he knows it’s not what wildlife officials advise, but ... the little guy was so tiny! Sanders scooped him up and took him inside immediately, putting him directly under a lamp to warm him up with some radiant heat.
It’s not the first time Sanders, 39, a physical therapist and life-long animal lover, has happened across a tiny bird on its own and given it a temporary home with him and Buddy. In 2013, he found a baby sparrow that he named Lucky and nursed until she feathered out and eventually felt confident enough to fly around during the day and, eventually, bring a boyfriend home to meet Sanders.
So, even though he logically knew he shouldn’t, he couldn’t just let nature take its course with that bitsy quail, whose head plume at that point looked like a rumpled mess of adorable bed-head.
Because Sanders, who grew up in California, had won a scholarship to a summer ornithology camp in Keystone when he was 12, he knew enough about birds to know Mr. Quail would do well eating bird seed, crushed broccoli and grub worms bought 36 for $1.50 at Walmart. And he did.
Except for one touch-and-go episode when Mr. Quail nibbled on an elephant ear houseplant — Sanders didn’t know they’re poisonous to birds — he thrived. He slept, and continues to sleep, in a cage in the kitchen at night, and roamed the backyard during the day, playing with the chickens, pecking for worms and, occasionally, chasing Buddy.
Lately, Sanders said, Mr. Quail hops the fence and wanders the rocky open space that abuts the backyard, mingling with passing coveys of quail.
“Eventually, he’ll bond with those other birds,” Sanders said. “The social pull of nature is really strong. And that’s how it should be. Pretty soon he’ll stay out at night and then join a covey.
“It’ll be hard to let him go. I just like him so much that I’ve been hanging on to him longer than I should. His personality is so cool.”
In the summer, when Sanders worked on his raised-bed garden, Mr. Quail pecked around in the soil right beside him. He perches on Sanders’ shoulders and responds when Sanders whistles. They eat breakfast together on the back porch when the weather is nice.
The other day, when Sanders was in the front driveway working on his car, Mr. Quail flew over the house — and this was a big effort, because quail aren’t big on flying — to bustle around in the front yard while Sanders was nearby.
Lately, Sanders said, Mr. Quail has been trying out mating calls, evidence that he’s growing up and maybe thinking about moving out. It’s the natural order and the way things should be, but still a little “Sunrise Sunset.”
Until he flies over the wooden back fence and joins a new covey for good, though, there will be sunny afternoons in the backyard with the chickens, companionable breakfasts and ninja ambushes of a silly dog running in aimless circles.