Saturday evening, as we returned from a great birthday dinner for the beautiful lady, a tiny quail chick, far too small to be out alone, approached us.
Being who we are – Dael's father was famous in New Hampshire for bringing home wounded animals and teenagers until they healed – we welcomed her. (We decided on “she.” We hadn't a clue.) Left outside, she'd have become some snake's supper.
Having such a small critter's life in your hands is always frightening. Once we rescued a desert cardinal chick that had fallen out of the nest and been abandoned. It didn't last the night. We were determined that our new guest would. While I sat in the fading light, holding our guest and listening to her high-pitched calls, Dael started researching, by phone and Internet.
We learned a lot. (And got occasional conflicting instructions, e.g., “If you can't find the chick's parents, any quail family will quickly adopt.” “That's false! Unrelated quail will usually kill the chick.”) There's a whole network of helpful southwesterners who care about birds.
She needed a warm environment, 90-100 degrees. Dael put her in a cardboard box, on an electric heating pad with a towel over it, and added a small stuffed animal. She actually cuddled up to it, until we hung socks to mimic mama's feathers.
I checked on her frequently that first night. Restarted the hearing pad. Worried because she wasn't moving and her cries were a lot softer. Because it was time for sleep? Or because she was fading?
We learned that she'd eat mashed dry cat food mixed with egg yolks and water, as well as crushed wild bird-seed. Water in a lid with small stones. Unlike other species, quail chicks can eat/drink on their own right away, but they need a little coaching. It was exciting when she got the idea, and pecked some yellow mess off the toothpick and devoured it. When we stunned flies or moths, her immediate enthusiasm made us laugh, and encouraged us.
Quail are social. Since we were all she had she quickly became friendly. If an open hand appeared in her box, she hopped right into our palm, to be picked up. And she was content to be held, except that she also wanted to explore, climbing up my shirt and slipping back, using her stubby wings for balance. We were afraid she'd fall, or wander into some hidden spot and lack the wit to come out again. So we discouraged explorations.
We bonded with her, too. I knew we couldn't keep her, but wished otherwise. Quail are said to be good pets; but she'd have to stay indoors; and having to feed her frequently and ensure she was warm wouldn't fit our schedules.
Sunday we learned of someone two hours away who had young quail. We thought seriously about making the drive to give our guest a good home and some pals. Then the tireless Susan of Broken Promises told us about an accredited wildlife rehabilitation center near Sunland Park. More competent hands than ours. And other quail to snuggle with.
Since our unexpected guest left, we've felt a little sad. But grateful. Human hearts quite naturally attach to the small, helpless, and vulnerable. Yeah, she was a demanding houseguest at an inconvenient time; but had such marvelous spirit – and comical clumsiness. She enriched our life and reminded us there's more to life than county commission meetings and an orange-haired reality-show star.
Life in the high desert is so full of wonderful gifts!
[The foregoing appeared as my Sunday column in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, 2 July 2017, and is also available on the newspaper's website and (presently) on KRWG's website. KRWG will also air a spoken version periodically during the week.]
Photos by Dael Goodman:
|Standing near her water bowl -- a plastic bottle-cap.|