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May 24, 2004

Quail chicks a hit in school

By Matt Cooper
The Register-Guard



LORANE - A newborn Japanese quail is no bigger than a person's thumb, but it can teach huge lessons.

When the first of 12 hatchlings fought its way out of a dappled egg at Lorane Elementary School southwest of Eugene, it was greeted by more than a dozen wide-eyed kids in Rod Cooper's first- and second-grade class.

Lorane Elementary was among 10 schools and day care facilities that hatched quail eggs last week through Adopt-a-Quail, a program of the Oregon State University/Lane County Extension Service in Eugene.

Lorane Elementary students gather around an incubator as teacher Rod Cooper pulls out a piece of shell left by a new Japanese quail.

Photo: Thomas Boyd / The Register-Guard

Look elsewhere for high-tech, cutting-edge educational concepts. Adopt-a-Quail is simple: Start with a full class of curious kids. Add newborn baby birds. Watch and listen.

"Cool, they're going to have babies!" one boy said, his nose pressed to the incubator glass.

"See, it's cracking!" added another, as an egg twitched and trembled.

"C'mon, babies - c'mon, c'mon," a girl encouraged.

"It's something that's really hands-on, that the kids really get excited about," said Matt Henschen, 4-H program assistant with the service.

One of life's most important lessons is also one of the simplest for Cooper - and his dozen hatchlings - to teach.

"They may not all hatch and they don't all live," Cooper said. "We have some kids who cry. We get to see life and death. They're not far apart."

The baby birds can be returned to the extension service after teachers are done with them, or they can go home to the families of especially persistent kids.

That's when the real learning begins: Students who don't accidentally drop their fragile charges may lose them to the family dog or cat, or the outdoors.

The excitement of bringing home a baby bird can give way to the realization that caring for it is a chore, Cooper has observed.

Still, Lorane students Lacey Gibson and Samuel Jentzsch - both 7 - hoped to be among the lottery winners to take home a bird. Jentzsch wanted to learn how to care for animals and Gibson wanted to expand her pet portfolio.

"I only have fish as pets," she said, "and I want some more pets."

If either needs tips on quail care, they might consult 11-year-old Tonisha Eastlick, a fifth-grader.

Eastlick was among a handful of Lorane students lucky enough last year to go home with some of the nine quail babies that survived incubation.

She's the only one from her class who still has living birds: Margalo and Squirt, both females who received the Club Med treatment, with a regular heat lamp, a rabbit cage-and-cardboard home, a bed and - most importantly, Eastlick guessed - lots of fresh water.

A sense of accomplishment wasn't her only reward. Eastlick has learned that while some quail can live in the wild, her domesticated ones probably would be fox food.

"The ones in the woods, they've got the instinct to look for food - they know what to eat and what to stay away from," she said.

"The ones born in captivity rely on the people to feed them and water them."


• Homeland: Central Asia. Brought here by bird fanciers.

• Weight: Four to six ounces.

• Markings: Brown, with black and tan streaking on the backs and wings. Males have a cinnamon-colored throat and females, a black-and-white spotted breast.

• Attitude: Docile, if handled regularly. Skittish, otherwise.

• Threat to native quail: Minimal. The birds have been domesticated, so they don't have the instinct to hatch eggs and outsmart predators.

• For more information: Call the OSU/Lane County Extension Service at 682-4243.

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