Don’t Even Count the Chicks After Hatching

One reason that canary breeders pull eggs as they are laid and later set them all back in the nest at the same time is so the chicks will hatch all at the same time, and get equal treatment from the parents. It’s a sad reality in breeding that out of six eggs laid a day apart, the oldest chick will be a week old before the youngest hatches. And the chances of survival under the crush of older siblings is very slight.

I could have had six lovebird chicks out of this last clutch, but I would have had to pull the older chicks much earlier than I wanted to. I feel heartless to have condemned those last babies to a slow death, but until I am set up for week old chicks, I just can’t commit to pulling them. Luckily I have until next October to figure out a better solution. No more lovebird chicks until then.

Three baby lovies
Chewy, Nugget, and Squirt.

The worst case for me has been with button quail, also known as Chinese painted quail. These little treasures come in two varieties: totally not interested in eggs and hatching out a dozen at a time. The adults live in a state of paranoia and aggression, picking on each other long after you think they have settled down into a ranking. I’ve had a couple hens who were startled at something, jumped up in alarm (way to hide from predators, girls), knock themselves out, and land in a water dish. Where they drowned.


My current trio consists of one male, Snow, whom I have had for a while, he may be getting past his prime. But he still takes care of his two girls and keeps them happy. In past times, I had a hen I called Tennessee (because she was a tuxedo pied) who was magic. She laid her eggs, gathered them into a pile, and sat tight. She hatched out seven chicks then went on about her business.

Button quail chicks cannot regulate their body temperature for about three days following hatching. Button quail parents don’t really worry about the chicks, but don’t mind when the babies cuddle up under their feathers. Chicks can drown in a very small amount of water in a dish. And chicks are so tiny they can walk right through most aviary wire into dangerous areas.

We managed to raise four buttons up to adulthood, which only takes three months, and I expected to have a regular supply of these adorable things. I gave away a few birds, kept my beautiful new male Frodo, and expected to become the Button Quail Queen.

Frodo, the most beautiful button quail ever.

We put up a half foot of tighter screening around the bottom of the aviary to keep the chicks from wandering away. Buttons love meal worms and the extra protein encourages egg laying. I put a small dish out with pebbles and a few drops of water for the expected chicks. I was ready.

Snow proceeded to kill Frodo. Lesson learned, don’t keep two males unless they grow up together. The next few batches of chicks hatched when it was cold and no one was home. The chicks died of exposure before we knew they were there. Even the ones I took in and tried to warm up died. Tennessee died, probably from too much egg laying, but her daughter Tennessee Two (TT) began where mom left off.

012416 chick
A button quail chick.

The next batch to survive were moved into their own cage, what we called the Quail Annex. They did well there, but soon I had only Snow and one other male in the main aviary. I moved the others back over, and as you might expect, I ended up with Snow and one other male. Sigh.

About a year ago, a club member needed a male button quail, so I traded the other male to her for females to be hatched later. So far no luck. While Snow was an only quail, I learned the beautiful call of a lonesome male Button Quail. As did all my neighbors. The solo began at 4 AM some days. And long into the night.

Finally someone had females for sale at a club meeting. When I put the two new girls into the aviary, Snow stood perfectly still, staring at them. Yes, they answered his call. I now have a large pile of eggs and one hen who does sit pretty well when she thinks about it. And if there are chicks this time around, I am better prepared to keep them warm and alive. All it takes is learning from mistakes.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thrusday.


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