When most people think of birds, the first thing they think of is that they subsist entirely on a diet of worms and seeds. But most birds have a diet that is significantly more varied than that.
Birds in the wild have to make do with whatever they can catch, find or forage, but the diet plan for a bird can change when it is in captivity.
Today we’ll be looking at quail, and specifically talking about their diet and their nutritional requirements. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know…
What Do Wild Quail Eat?
Quail are small, omnivorous ground-dwelling birds that can be found in various habitats, from deserts and grasslands to forests and wetlands and so their diet is similarly terrestrial.
In the wild, quail eat both plant and animals matter, and primary components of their diet are seeds, insects and other small invertebrates, grass, and other plant matter including fruit.
They are specifically known for being seed eaters, as seeds comprise a significant portion of their diet. Quails have strong beaks that allow them to break open the tough seed coats of various kinds of seeds.
But insects and other invertebrate creatures also an essential part of the average quail’s diet, especially during the breeding season, when they need protein for egg development and rearing their chicks.
Common insects eaten by quail include beetles, ants, termites, grasshoppers, and crickets along with true worms, mealworms and similar small and easy-to-catch critters.
Some larger quail have also been known to eat small vertebrates such as tiny lizards, hatchling snakes, and even small rodents, but these are far less common in their diet compared to plant matter and insects.
Do Domestic Quail Have a Special Diet?
The typical diet of domestic quail usually consists of a mix of seeds, insects like mealworms, and other protein-rich foods when keepers are trying to simulate their natural diet.
Domestic quail are often fed on a specially formulated and quail-specific feed, or else on commercial gamebird feed that is designed to mimic the quail’s natural diet in the wild, but with specific nutritional additions designed to fulfill their needs.
While the diet of domestic quail is similar in composition to that of their wild counterparts, their food sources are often less varied and may not include as wide a range of insects, plants, and other food items.
This is because the diversity of food items available in the wild is often difficult to replicate in a domestic setting and also because, so long as all vital nutrients are being provided, it just is not needed.
Some things quail commonly eat in captivity, including kitchen scraps, include:
- Cracked corn
- Seeds, Sunflower and Safflower especially
- Other leafy green vegetables
- Meat scraps
But quail should never eat the following:
- Any artificial sweetener
- Salty foods
- Citrus fruits
- The green parts of any nightshade family plant (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.)
Regardless of feeding “style” domestic quail are still able to thrive on their diet provided they are receiving the necessary nutrients and calories.
What Do Baby Quail Eat?
Baby quail, also known as chicks, have a somewhat different diet than adult quail though the menu is the same.
While adult quail consume a significant amount of seeds, baby quail don’t get nearly many seeds in their early life since they are harder to eat and tough to digest.
Instead, they rely heavily on insects and worms for their nutrition during the first few weeks of their life.
Chicks overall have a higher protein requirement for their growth and development, which they get from these protein-rich inclusions.
Also, unlike many bird species, baby quail don’t rely on their parents to feed them for very long at all.
Instead, they are what’s known as precocial, meaning they are born well-developed and are able to move around and feed themselves shortly after hatching.
Within just a couple of days of hatching, baby quail are usually already hunting for insects and other food on their own, though they rely on plenty of instruction from mom and dad to learn what to eat.
As they grow and mature, their diet slowly shifts to include more plant material, and they start to consume more seeds, foliage (and fruits, if applicable) in addition to insects. By the time they reach adulthood, their diet is identical to that of their parents.
Do Quail Living in Different Areas Have Different Diets?
Yes, the different environments quail live in can have an impact on their diet. Quail are found in a wide variety of habitats, from deserts and grasslands to forests and wetlands, and there are of course huge variations in the plant and insect foods available to quail in each biome.
For example, quails living in arid regions may have to rely more on insects and succulent plants to supplement their water intake, while those living in forests may have access to a wider variety of greenery and berries.
Regional climate also plays a role in determining the diet of quail, as different plants and insects thrive in different temperatures and levels of moisture and at different time throughout the year.
During periods of drought or extreme weather conditions, quail may have to adapt their diet to the available resources, which may be very different from the usual!
So while the environment, climate, and season all influence the diet of a quail, quails are nonetheless adaptive and can thrive on what food sources are available in their habitat.
Do Different Species of Quail Have Different Diets?
Yes, different quail species have different diets that vary based on their habitat, but most quail have diets that are broadly similar.
Where a quail species lives plays a significant role in what kind of food it will have access to, with some species being adapted to specific environments where certain food sources are more abundant.
For example, Gambel’s quail primarily inhabits arid regions and feeds on the seeds, fruits, and green vegetation of desert plants, and only a few insects, spiders, and other invertebrates.
Similarly, California quail, found in the chaparral and coastal sage scrub regions of western North America, feeds on a combination of seeds, fruits, and insects.
What Do Quail Eat in the Wintertime?
Quail don’t eat different things during winter necessarily, but the foods they have access to definitely changes.
In general, however, the main difference in a quail’s diet during winter is the lack of most insects and some kinds of vegetation.
But quail are opportunistic feeders, and will modify their diet depending on the availability of food resources in any given season, including winter.
During the winter, quail, like other birds, have to rely more on seeds and fruits to satisfy their nutritional needs.
They will eat the remaining seeds and berries that are available in the late fall or switch to a different type of food source altogether.
In some cases, quail may also migrate to warmer areas with milder winters, where food is more abundant.
What Other Supplements Do Quail Need in Their Diet?
Domestic quail can be prone to certain nutritional imbalances if their diet is not properly balanced. One common issue is an imbalance in calcium and phosphorus, which can lead to bone problems, especially in laying females.
Additionally, quails can suffer from deficiencies in vitamins A, D, and E, which can lead to poor growth, lethargy, and immune system dysfunction.
To prevent these imbalances, some quail feed mixes are specially formulated to include a balanced combination of all necessary micronutrients.
Owners can also add certain supplements to their quails’ diets to further ensure they are getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals.
For example, crushed oyster shell or calcium carbonate can be added to their feed to provide them with more calcium, which is important for eggshell formation in laying hens.
Vitamin supplements can also be added to their water to ensure they are getting the necessary vitamins mentioned.
Do Quail Need Grit?
Yes, quail do need grit in their diets. Grit is small stones or other hard materials that the quail can consume and then store in its gizzard to help grind up food that it eats.
This is especially important for birds that feed on mostly seeds as it helps them digest the hulls of the seeds and make use of all their nutrients.
A lack of grit can lead to nutritional deficiencies caused by indigestion of food, and even some pretty serious health issues.
For this reason, if you are keeping domestic quail it is important to include a bowl of commercially-produced grit or keep sand in their enclosure at all times.
They should be able to consistently access it so they can properly digest their food and maintain good health.
Quail will instinctively seek out grit, so providing them with the safest and best quality grit will help them stay healthier and also keep them from turning to poor or inadequate grit sources.
Can Quail Eat Chicken Feed?
Yes, but with one big catch.
First things first, chicken feed is not poisonous or genuinely harmful to quail. Quail can eat chicken feed and will do so if they can get to it, or if no other food sources are available.
However, chicken feed is not nutritionally complete for quail and should not be the primary source of food for them!
Chicken feed contains different levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals making it inadequate for the nutritional needs of your quail.
Over time, and if fed consistently, a diet of chicken feed will lead to health issues and nutritional deficiencies in quail.
As mentioned above, quail have their own specially balanced diet for optimal nutrition. A specially formulated commercial gamebird or quail feed, or a homemade diet consisting of “wild” seeds, grains, insects, fruits, and supplements is the best option for your quail.
Nailing nutritional goals is especially important for laying hens and growing chicks.
Do Quail Have Favorite Foods or Treats?
Surprisingly, not really, or rather each quail has its own individual preferences. Quail keepers report huge variation in what kind of food brings their birds running.
Some like seeds or grain, some prefer insects, still others prefer berries or other plants.
When it comes to treats, there are many options that may be considered: Some common treats for domestic quail include mealworms, crickets, scrambled eggs, fruits like berries or grapes, and leafy green vegetables.
Mealworms and crickets are an excellent source of protein that quail can enjoy as a snack, and they are cheap and easy to source.
Many owners have also reported that quails enjoy eating chicken scratch, which is a mix of grains such as wheat, corn, and millet.
But it’s important to note that treats should be given in strict moderation as part of a balanced diet, especially if they are “junk food” like rice or cracked corn.
While quail may enjoy certain treats without worry of ill effects, too much of anything can upset their nutritional balance and lead to health problems.
How Much Does an Adult Quail Eat? How Much Does it Cost?
The amount of food an adult quail eats will depend on various factors such as the size of the bird, its activity level, and its stage of growth.
On average, an adult quail will eat about 0.75 to 1 ounces of food per day. This includes a mix of seeds, grains and insects, as described above, or else a commercial feed.
The actual cost of feeding quail per day will likewise vary depending on the cost of feed itself: typically, quail-specific or gamebird feed will run you about $15 to $25 for a 50-pound bag.
If we take the high-side figure of $25, then that breaks down to about 3 cents an ounce ($0.03)
50 (pounds) x 16 (ounces in a pound) = 800 (ounces in 50lb bag)
$25 (cost of bag) / 800 (ounces in bag) = 0.0312 (cost per ounce)
So an adult quail will need only about $0.03 of food per day!
This does not include any treats and supplements, of course, but to figure out your baseline food costs for quail all you need to do is multiply that cost-per-day by the number of heads in your flock.
For instance, if you have a flock of ten quail, your daily feed cost would be around 30 cents ($0.30).
Hopefully this gives you an idea of the approximate costs associated with feeding your quail.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.