Di Taylor, of Hawkes Bay, asks :-
Where do quail go in winter? We have two breeding pairs on our property but they seem to vanish in wintertime.
Murray Williams, an ecologist at Victoria University of Wellington, responded.
When California quail attempt to breed, which is in spring and early summer, the pairs scatter themselves across the landscape so that each pair has space to themselves, their territory. This is the area in which the pair feeds, establishes their nest and commences to raise their young. The male is usually the one most seen, perhaps on top of a fence post looking around, perhaps in a low branch of a tree from which he can scan the ground for predators (like cats) and for other quail. His single note or three note call will be heard often as he proclaims his presence and the existence of his territory.
By the time the young are about half-grown, the family wanders a bit more widely in search of food and open but scrub-filled habitat. This often brings them into near contact with other families. By the time the young are full-grown, meetings with other families at places that prove especially good habitat become more common. The protective behaviour of parents towards their young and the parents’ defence of their territories gradually ceases and several families may now blend to form a large flock, or covey. Throughout the autumn and winter the quail remain in these large flocks and they usually inhabit places that are scrubby (e.g. manuka scrub, areas of recently felled pines ) and, most importantly, lie well to the sun.
In the Hawkes Bay, quail are common in the hill country of the Wairoa area and alongside pine plantations in the drier inland areas of the Takapau plains. Their presence in the more orderly orchard and grape-growing areas of the Bay is mostly when quail are breeding.