Boredom busters for quail can help alleviate stress and bring a lot of joy to quail in captivity. This list of my favorite quail boredom busters is sure to liven up your quail hutch!
Originally published March 2019. Updated Sept. 2021.
This post contains affiliate links. Click here to learn more.
When I first decided to try raising quail, I watched video after video about raising quail in stacked cages. It seems to be the way most folks are raising their quail, whether for eggs or meat, and it's definitely space efficient.
I've since decided to implement moveable outdoor housing during the warmer months. But in winter, my quail are split into 3 groups, and live in wire cages in the house. For many folks, especially those homesteading in urban areas, housing quail in cages might be your only option, even if you long to raise them as naturally as possible.
While I don't have the ability to get my sweet quail down on the ground right now (it's April and currently snowing as I type this!), it's given me a lot of joy to find ways to bring nature to my quail.
Quail are smart little creatures, and they can get bored easily. Living their whole day with the same food, water, grit, and perhaps some straw, doesn't give them much to keep themselves occupied from day to day.
I have found that introducing one or two of these boredom busters during the day perks them up immediately, and brings out that playful spark. Quail let you know when they're happy - they're talkative little critters! And hearing them make happy sounds, as they do "quail-ish" things, tapping into their instinct, is plenty of reason to keep my finding new ways to make their winter quarters as natural and interesting as possible.
Boredom busters for quail
Here are my favorite tried-and-true ways to keep my quail happy and playful, even while being kept in cages!
Live crickets or grasshoppers
In the wild, grasshoppers would make up a significant percentage of a quail's diet - especially for laying hens and juveniles. While dried crickets or grasshoppers can be a healthy treat, live bugs turn treat time into game time.
Need a double boredom buster - for your quail and your kids? Turn the little ones loose in the yard with a jar and send them on a scavenger hunt for quail treats!
Piles of hay
If you've never seen quail play in a fresh pile of hay, it's really a sight you have to see. Mine love to jump, pounce, burrow, and hide in hay. They make all their happiest noises when they see me walk in with an armful of dried alfalfa to freshen up their pens. The joy they express reminds me very much of the way my kids act when I take them to the park after a long rainy spell! WooHoo!!
Hanging a spray of millet or bunch of greens
Fresh greens and seeds make great quail treats, but they can be so much more than just a snack. By suspending them from the top of the quail's pen, it gives them a chance to jump, stretch, or balance on a twig as they work for their treat. Activities like this mimic the antics wild quail will often employ to reach grass or grain seeds in the wild.
Don't forget that quail should always have sand or grit available - especially when supplementing store-bought pellets with fresh food. It's important for keeping their digestive system running smoothly!
While dust baths should probably fall into the category of "necessities" when it comes to raising quail, they're also a wonderful boredom buster. Quail clean themselves by vigorously "splashing" dust or sand with their feathers, and regular dust bathing plays an important role in keeping quail clean and healthy.
I always have a small dust bath available in each quail pen, large enough for about 2 quail to fit into at a time. But a couple of times a week, I'll fill a much larger tub with sand and really let them have at it. It's like a kid who has a kiddie pool at home visiting the big pool at a local YMCA - their eyes light up, and they have an absolute blast. I've more than once watched my quail spend a solid hour "playing" in the big sand pool, happy as a little clams.
Dish of water
This one is best if your quail are grown and fully feathered, and have a warm, dry habitat where they won't get chilled.
Most quail keepers use small waterers that mount to the side of a quail cage, and offer a good drink without allowing quail to splash or play in their drinking water. It's a great way to keep quail cages clean and dry, and I recommend them!
That said, now and again, quail really appreciate being able to get their feet wet and splash about in a dish of water. They don't bathe in it like they do with the dust bath, but rather look very much like toddlers having a good splash in a mud puddle. This can be a wonderful activity to let them enjoy, right before you know you'll be cleaning their cages and giving them fresh bedding. Quail don't do well with soggy living quarters, so just be sure they've got good dry housing to go back to, once they're done.
Piece of grass sod, or dish of sprouts
Fresh greens make up a significant part of a wild quail's diet. I like to supplement my quails' pelleted food by providing some fresh sprouts every day, and they love teasing apart the sprouts, and nibbling them down like a delicacy.
To make a tray of sprouts, I soak a few tablespoons of alfalfa seeds (or other sprouting mix) for several hours. Then pour them into a plastic tray that has a few small holes poked into it for drainage. Rinse the seeds once a day, allowing extra water to drain through the small holes. In 5-6 days you'll have fresh sprouts for your quail.
This is a great way of adding greens (and fun) to a quail's food routine in the winter. In the summer, it can be even more fun to simply dig up a bit of sod (bonus if you get a few worms or bug in with the roots!) and put the whole thing on a plate for your quail to nibble, pull at, and scratch apart. This can keep them occupied for hours!
Twigs and sticks
Much like with hay, a little pile or twigs and sticks brings out the "hide and burrow" instinct in quail. Brush piles are a favorite haunt for quail in the wild, and hunters even build them specifically to attract these adorable game birds.
I'm a big fan of keeping a few sticks and branches in my quail habitat all the time, but occasionally surprising them with a "twiggy" home makeover for a few days can really help alleviate boredom by mixing up their living space.
Hollow logs, and other hiding places
Another little hiding place that quail can enjoy taking turns hiding in, is a short hollow log, or curved piece of bark to hide under. It doesn't take much. Next time you go for a walk, keep your eyes open and you'll almost certainly find something fun to mix things up for your quail. Even a pine cone can be a curiosity!
Make them part of your day
If you can, just taking out one of your quail and letting them catch a ride in your shirt as you do the dishes can have the double benefit of mixing up their day, and helping them develop a stronger bond with you. Watching a movie? Cuddle a quail while you're at it.
Now, this may not work so easily if your quail housing is outside, or in the barn. But for urban homesteader who keep quail in a spare room or attached garage, adding a quail "helper" during parts of your day can be easy to do, and help brighten the day for both of you!
Below is a picture of one of my favorite quail, Graylee, when she was just a few weeks old. She loves being part of anything I do!