It was a beautiful spring day and everything was crisp and clear from a long rainy spring. I had gone up the trail with my husband and girls and they were working with the horses and doing their chores such as cleaning and repairing the barn.
I decided to sit on a big fallen tree at the side of the trail behind the barn. As they scurried around doing their many duties with the horses and getting ready to take a long trail ride, I just sat and enjoyed the beautiful trees, grass, and birds. There is always something to see around the barn and on the trail. The smell of the new grass was like perfume and every once in a while, little yellow butterflies would come gracefully fluttering by.
On the way up to the barn, we’d seen a beautiful little bunny running across the trail, busy looking for some fresh clover. Our two Australian Shepherd dogs were always excited to go to the barn; they went with my husband twice a day to feed the horses but today they knew they were going on a trail ride and they were excited. Every five or ten minutes they’d bound down to the tree I was sitting on to see if I was okay.
I’d been sitting there for quite awhile when I noticed a movement in the grass at the side of the trail. The grass was about eight inches tall and very thick. There was a small hill about two feet high. And there was something in the grass, but from where I was sitting I could not see what it was. I heard a low, chirping noise so I very slowly rose from my log and walked a few feet over to the trail. I stood very still, listening and wondering what it could be.
All of a sudden, a California quail came out of the grass and onto the trail, which was fine gravel and sand. I was afraid to move as the quail seemed to be concerned and talking to something in the grass. He would go back in the grass very frantic and making the chirping noise, and then go back onto the trail. He did this several times.
Finally, he went back in the grass and came out with a tiny, tiny baby quail who could hardly walk. He was so cute–a little ball of brown fluff about the size of an English walnut–and had large feet for his size. As he tottered across the trail, he held out his tiny wings to balance himself. The father helped him across the trail and into the bushes and then they disappeared.
The eggs are about an inch long, and as soon as they hatch and are dried off, the quail papa and mama moves the babies to a new home and never return to the nest where they hatched. I was amazed at what I had just seen.
I stood there motionless for several minutes and then walked over to the spot where they had disappeared. I carefully looked into the bushes and there was a mother quail and ten babies who had been quietly waiting for the rest of the family.
They quickly disappeared into the woods to their new home andI went back to my seat on the log and here came the dogs to check on me once again, and I was so glad they had not appeared when the quail were crossing the trail. I resumed my quiet time on the log but I have never enjoyed anything as lovely as the littlest quail.
“The Littlest Quail” is from a book called Ozark Princess Diary by my late Irish storyteller mother, Mary Jane Daugherty Srubar. It was published in 2008 and is full of wonderful stories, including this one. Happy St Patrick’s Day, Mom!