Prevent Quail Predators
By Kelly Bohling Coturnix quail are known for their adaptive and resilient nature. They thrive in a variety of settings, from urban cityscapes to countryside. However, a whole host of potential predators also inhabit these environments, so it is important to research local predators and know what protections you can take to keep your birds safe. With a little planning and understanding of these predators’ habits, your quail will remain safe and secure wherever they live.
As more towns allow for keeping chickens and other poultry within city limits, people are becoming increasingly aware of the potential predators that live in their neighborhoods. If an animal such as a raccoon or coyote succeeds in getting a tasty meal from your flock, this rewards predatory behavior and can effectively encourage a predator to become a nuisance to both your own birds and those that live nearby. While frustration with these predators is very understandable, they are merely taking advantage of opportunities given to them through oversights in coop design and hygiene. It is our job as quail keepers to proactively prevent predation.
Poultry-keeping can invite an opportunistic ecosystem of its own, starting with how feed is handled. Spilled, discarded, or easily accessible feed attracts rodents, and rats are especially problematic. Initially drawn by the feed, rats can become interested in the bigger, tastier meal — your quail. They can chew through thin wire, such as chicken wire, and reach through openings of an inch or larger. If quail sleep next to the wire sides, rats may well eat them right through the wire openings. These rodents are also excellent burrowers and can easily tunnel underneath the coop to gain entry.
To deter rats, use ½-inch hardware cloth for the sides of your coop. For coops situated on the ground, staple ½-inch hardware cloth to the bottom of your coop, even if you will be sinking it under a few inches of earth. Secure feed bins and clean up any food spills promptly. Old bedding material will likely contain some feed, so consider composting it in a compost tumbler or other closed container. You may also want to explore waste-reducing feeder designs to minimize the amount of food quail can scatter while they eat.
Watch out for Hawks
Rodents attracted to food may in turn attract their own predators, such as hawks. While a sturdy coop protects quail from being physically attacked and eaten by hawks, these large birds pose a very real spooking threat. When quail are scared suddenly, their instinct is to fly straight up to avoid the threat. This instinct is beneficial in the wild, but in domesticity, it results in head wounds or broken necks from hitting the ceiling of the coop. Hawks will often flap their wings while sitting on a nearby ledge or hovering in mid-air, scaring the quail and inciting their vertical flight. It is best to avoid placing your coop near low branches or fences, where a hawk can camp out and stalk your quail. Some poultry keepers report success in deterring hawks by placing a fake owl or a few shiny pinwheels on the coop roof, out of the quail’s sight. If hawks present a persistent problem, consider installing a shade cloth over your coop. Hawks aren’t interested in what they can’t see, and the quail will also appreciate the extra shade!
Outsmarting Opossums and Raccoons
Opossums and raccoons, perhaps the most ubiquitous poultry predators, are widespread throughout North America. I think of both of these animals as “hybrid” predators. They seem equally comfortable on the ground as in the trees, are excellent diggers, and are dexterous and strong. Most of my predator horror stories with keeping quail involve these two animals, and they have compelled me to redesign my coops several times. Chicken wire is no match for either opossums or raccoons: ½-inch hardware cloth must be used on all coop sides, and even on buried floors in ground coops. For wire-bottomed coops, ¼-inch hardware cloth is optimal. Even with this smaller-sized hardware cloth, I would highly recommend adding a second layer of hardware cloth a foot or so below the floor to keep these predators from camping out underneath and stalking quail toes. If they can grab a toe, they will pull it (along with the rest of the bird) through the wire, and it’s not a pretty sight.
It is also important to strongly reinforce all sides of the coop, including the nesting box and roof. One Christmas evening several years ago, we returned home from holiday festivities to find that a young raccoon had forced its way into one of our quail coops between the nesting box lid and wall, slaughtering nearly all of our quail. The coop was a second-hand one that I thought I had reinforced sufficiently, but this immature raccoon was able to pry open an opening under the nesting box lid big enough for him to get in. I wouldn’t have believed it was possible, had I not seen him escape the same way. The next day, I added extra framing to the nesting box and lid to make sure it couldn’t happen again.
Warding Off Foxes and Coyotes
Foxes and coyotes are also common predators, and while they don’t pose a threat from above, they are quick and efficient diggers. For coops on the ground, it is crucial that ½-inch or ¼-inch hardware cloth is stapled and secured with overlaying wood framing for strength, whether the floor is buried below ground level or not. As a secondary security measure against these predators, place heavy stones or bricks around the perimeter of your coop to discourage digging. For added protection, bury these barriers halfway into the ground.
Many people new to poultry keeping are surprised to discover that the range of foxes and coyotes isn’t limited to rural areas. These animals increasingly reside in towns and cities, due in part to human encroachment on their natural habitats. They tend to seek shelter in wooded areas or mixed habitats of thicket and shrubbery, even within an urban environment. Aim to keep your coop away from these landscapes and in a more open, exposed area. Even if you haven’t seen a fox or coyote in your community, assume that they are there, and build your coop to withstand their interest.
Keeping Dogs and Cats Out
This last group of predators is quite familiar: domesticated dogs and cats. Make sure that these pets cannot have access to your quail. Even if a dog or cat is calm and hasn’t exhibited prior predatory behavior around birds, it isn’t worth the risk. Both dogs and cats can potentially scare the quail, especially if you have a ground coop. If your quail live in an area where dogs and cats freely roam, whether you have a ground coop or an elevated coop, consider installing a fence around the coop to provide a buffer of at least a few feet on all sides. This should prevent any scare-related quail injuries. Most neighborhoods have at least a few outdoor cats roaming through, and if this is the case for your location, I would recommend keeping the quail in an elevated coop, free of ledges for the cats to perch on and stalk the birds.
Whether you keep quail in the country or in town, you can be sure that predators are nearby. With a little foresight and research, however, they shouldn’t pose a significant threat. Help to keep a safe and secure environment for your birds, and those in the neighborhood, with preventative planning and coop design.
Kelly Bohling is a native of Lawrence, Kansas. She works as a classical violinist, but in between gigs and lessons, she’s out in the garden or spending time with her animals, including quail and French Angora rabbits. She enjoys finding ways that her animals and garden can benefit each other for a more sustainable urban homestead. You can follow her through her website (www.KellyBohlingStudios.com).