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Quail Totem Animal

My maternal grandfather suffered from polio which made it difficult for his knees to bend to sit and he walked with a limp. Yet, he never let his physical handicap stop him. Much like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from the same affliction, my grandfather benefited from physical exercise. When The Great Depression (1929-1941) occurred, my grandfather and his brothers would go hunting to help put food on the table. This would consist of the local, edible wildlife such as pheasant, turkey, geese, doves, squirrels, and quails. Over the years, my grandfather developed into a skilled huntsman and fisherman. He was also considered an excellent marksman, as he would win all the local skeet tournaments.

Childhood sleepovers at my grandparent’s house was a treat. Hunting was part of the experience at my grandparents, where wildlife art was displayed, a rifle rack, and fishing poles in the garage (sometimes grandpa would take us grandkids fishing and I have fond memories of being with him in his boat). The living room and kitchen of their house were my favorite areas (besides the porch swing). Decorative couch pillows depicting quails and a framed tea towel of the same subject matter forever remained in my memory. It wasn’t until my spiritual awakening began and a trip to Sedona, Arizona did I begin to understand the connection of the quail to the maternal side of my family and its significance in my spiritual journey. In this Musings blog, we will explore the various historical and symbolic aspects of the Quail Totem Animal and its medicine.

Quail Facts

Quail is an umbrella name for a group of mid-sized birds in the order of Galliformes. Galliformes are birds considered ground-feeding birds that are heavy-bodied, which include turkeys, chickens, quail, and other similar landfowl. A group of quail is called a flock, covey, or bevy. Like the turkey, quail are divided into Old World and New World categories.

Old World quail are those in the Phasianidae family and they tend to be larger in size. They are native to Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand. The Phasianidae family is also called the pheasant family and includes turkeys, chickens, partridges, and pheasants. They are raised for table food and their eggs for consumption. Old World quail are small and plump. They are seed eaters but will ingest small insects. They nest on the ground and are capable of small bursts of flight. Some varieties are raised for game farms and others to supplement wild populations.

New World quail are in the Odontophoridae family and are native to the Americas. They tend to be shorter in nature in wingspan, neck, tail, and bill which has a slight curve and serrated. While their legs are short, they are powerful enabling them to run quickly. They are also capable of short bursts of flight like their Old World counterparts. New World quail are also hunted on game farms, while others are released in the wild to support re-population.

While both the Old and New World birds are classed as quails, they are not closely related. They are given the classification of quail based on their similarities of appearance and habitat. Overall, quails prefer to walk, run, and hide from predators. Their plumage varies from the plain to the spectacular. Many of the quail species have ornamental crests or plumes on the top of their heads that bobble when they move.

More Facts

  1. Quails have a distinctive sound. Quails are very shy birds which makes a “sip-sip-sip” or “whit-whit-whit” sound. The best time to hear quail calling is in the early morning and evening.
  2. Quail bursts of flight can reach speeds up to 40mph for approximately 100 yards. However, many prefer to run and hide when threatened by predators.
  3. Quails nest on the ground in grassland or field areas that have plenty of plant cover. Nests are made in a shallow depression about 5 to 7 inches wide and lined with grass, leaves, and small twigs. Most nests (also called a clutch) will have 12-16 eggs. Quail can raise up to two broods per year.
  4. Not all Quails Migrate. Most quails are not capable of long flights, so the majority stay in their habitat year round.
  5. Quails Live in Flocks During the Winter. During most of the year, quails partner off and only live in pairs, with their broods. However, the cold of winter will have quails come together in a covey of 8 to 25 birds, so they may gather for warmth. They will form a circle with their heads in the center to keep them out of the wind and retain body heat.
  6. Quail Chicks can Leave the Nest Shortly after Hatching. Chicks will venture out within 24 hours of hatching and remain by their mother’s side. This is mostly a survival tactic, so they are not left unattended in the nest and at the mercy of predators. However, chicks will remain in the nest for several weeks in which their parents will bring them food.
  7. Quails can become Poisonous. One unique aspect of quails is that sometimes will eat poisonous plants (hemlock or hellebore) which will have no ill effects on them. Rather, the plant toxins will taint their meat. The result is if the tainted bird is eaten by a predator or human, they become poisoned by the bird meat. What is also interesting this poisoning (called “conturnism”) is found mostly with migrating quails and is most poisonings are reported during migration season.
  8. Quails have been domesticated for approximately 4,000 years. While they were bred mostly for their meat, in 11th century Japan, quail were kept as songbirds.
  9. Quail Predators. Depending on the habitat, quails have wild and domesticated predators such as mice, rats, squirrels, crows, armadillos, opossums, skunks, foxes, snakes, owls, and wild hogs, as well as cats, dogs, and humans.
  10. Quail Life Span. Wild quails can live between two to three years but may live as long as five or six years.

Mythology

Egyptian Quail Chick Relief The Met Relief plaque with quail chick Late Period–Ptolemaic Period 400–30 B.C.

Egyptian

While there are not direct Egyptian myths connected to the quail, it is evident that quail played an important role in Egyptian life. Images of quail included its own hieroglyph. The quail symbol is usually depicted with the hieroglyph for water. When combined you get the word “moon”. The word owl is pronounced M and quail is pronounced Oo and the symbol N for water. Quails have also been depicted in stone reliefs and wall paintings. If you were a farmer grown wheat in ancient Egypt, you more than likely were also raising fruit and even quail. Quail became an important protein source for the temple and pyramid workers and eventually quail farms were established.

Greek

In Greek mythology, Asteria (known as “of the stars” or “starry one”) is the daughter of the Titan parents (Coeus) and Phoebe. Like most stories involving the god Zeus, he pursued Asteria for what would be assured a romantic encounter. Asteria was aware of Zeus’ tactics with other young women and was terrified of the thought that she might fall to the same fate. In order to escape his advances, she transformed into a quail (other birds in other accounts) and fled to an island (other accounts tell she transformed herself into the island Ortygia, or Delos). Her sister, Leto was not so lucky and was impregnated by the god. Zeus’ wife, Hera, ordered that no one was to assist Leto nor to provide her shelter. Asteria and her island were the only place willing to receive Leto and she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. The island was later called Delos by Apollo for his gratitude and love of his mother and aunt and made Delos his sacred island.

Another legend describes the quail as being the sacred bird to Hephaistos and Artemis.

Hephaistos (also called Hephaestus) was the Greek god of fire, volcanoes, metalworking, smithing, sculpture, and masonry, while Artemis (in Roman mythology called Diana) was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity, and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women, she is often depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. [Greek Mythology Wiki]

The quail was a symbol of a contrite spirit (to be humbled or penitent, acknowledging our sin and even to be overcome by sorrow because of our failures), communal love, and higher consciousness. In Greek mythology, is it said that is was Artemis who lived on “Quail Island”.

Pre-Colombian

There is a Maya creations myth that tells how after all the animals had been formed, the quail (Bech) was the favorite bird of the gods. The quail was beloved for its beautiful feathers, its flirty plum on top of its head, and it was permitted to build nests in the hollows of the trees to protect its young from predators. This gift from the gods enabled the quail to grow in numbers quickly compared to other animals. The quail, rather than grateful, grew vain and greedy and wanting to eventually rule the entire world with only its kind and their numerous offspring.

One day the Great Spirit and his son, the prince of the sun came to visit the world in human form. The prince of darkness, Box-Bux, became envious and sent spies to learn from the birds about the visit. All the birds refused to divulge details of the Great Spirit’s visit, except the selfish quail, who used her offspring as I diversion. The young rose up in flight in the presence of the Great Spirit and his son, thereby divulging their location to the prince of darkness. The Great Spirit was deeply saddened to learn of the quail’s participation in this plot. Tears filled the Great Spirit’s eyes and looking at his beloved quail he said, “Traitor Bech [quail], from today onward, you and yours will remain at the mercy of the wild animals and the hunters; you will live on the ground for all time.” It is said that that is now why the quail must stay alert and run and hide from predators.

Celtic

On the isle of man, there are families with the surname of Quail. In the Ogham, this pagan Celtic mystery tradition focuses on the meanings and symbology of trees, plans, and animals. Quails were associated with the Rowan tree. Rowan trees, in Celtic mythology, embodied great wisdom, protection, and magic.

Mimbres Artifacts – quail / chicks

Native American Quail Totem

Quail do not play a major role in Native American mythology and this is in part because they are considered modest and humble birds. Quails are prominent in the southwest and the Pueblo people associate the quail with the earth. Some Native cultures also consider them a clan animal. The Anishinaabe, like most Algonquian-speaking groups in North America, base their system of kinship on clans or totems. The Ojibwe word for clan (doodem) was borrowed into English as totem. The clans, based mainly on animals, were instrumental in traditional occupations, intertribal relations, and marriages. Today, the clan remains an important part of Anishinaabe identity.[Wikipedia]

While the quail is mostly defined as a food source, many clans view the quail as foolish and gullible, or even associated as incompetent spouses and parents. An exception is the Mi’kmaq story of a tragic hero named Pulowech (in English possibly mistranslated as a partridge with black feathers on the side of its neck), who behaves bravely and honorably. The Cherokee have a Partridge (or Quail) Dance among their tribal dance traditions. In Cherokee their word refers to a quail. Note: partridges were not native to North America and early English and early American settlers’ accounts referred to the bird as a partridge, which was native to Europe.

Symbolism

The quail prefers to walk in its life journey, as in doing so it stays grounded. The quail is cautious and encourages you to pause and ask questions about your path—Are you listening and interacting with the right group of people? Do you know how to set boundaries and protect yourself when needed? Male and female quails co-parent, each equally contributing to the raising of their young—Are you doing your part contributing to the coparenting of your children?

Artists of the Medieval Period depicted quails when communicating ideas of eroticism and romance. In Rome, quail were associated with victory and bravery in battle. Aristotle observed quail eating hemlock (a deadly plant) and had some sort of magical ability not to be harmed, but rather could alchemically transform and neutralize the poison and would defy death. Hindus and Russians view quails as a symbol of spring, dawn, new beginnings, and hope.

When a quail enters your life it is time to take action on a dream or hope you have long held but have done nothing about it. Not taking action enables others to take advantage of the same thing, so the time for you is now. The quail encourages you to put in the work and follow through with whatever you pursue, or you will not succeed.

Quails in the southwest understand that during the heat of day, it is time to stay in the shade and rest. If you are not feeling well, the quail suggests you slow down and take the time for self-care. Stress and worry does not serve you. Remove yourself from the busyness, chaos, and drama of your life and create a space of peace and relaxation.

If you are on a spiritual path, the quail signifies higher knowledge. The quail is associated with the higher realm and is a confirmation of the mystic in you, and acknowledging your psychic abilities or those about to come. Remain open to these things as they unfold.

Quail are hyper vigilant and full of focus. They are able to see danger coming ahead or in the shadows. Stay aware and use your analytical skills to find the best solution to avoid conflict or harm.

Quail Medicine

The quail is somewhat of a dichotomy. While it appears small and frail on the outside, it is full of courage, strength, and perseverance on the inside. They quail will always embrace a challenge, knowing it holds a lesson. Quail people tend to surprise others with their ability to come through even the most difficult of times.

Quail people have a sort of a 360-degree radar. They are super aware of their surroundings, situations, and are always analyzing as a form of preparation. This enables them to have a sort of pre-cognition of things before things happen and allowing them to make the best decision at any given moment or when prudent. Because of their sentinel skills, they help to put others at ease and facilitate calm. They key is to not become hyper-vigilant and not know when it is time to relax and not worry.

Quail medicine encourages you to find others with whom you can collaborate with. Being part of something greater and contributing brings much satisfaction and joy. Caring and sharing within the small circle of family and friends you trust, and love are important. These closer interactions are important to prioritize over others that you are not strongly connected to.

If you are interested in learning more about totem animals or other spiritual topics, check out my other Musing Blogs. Even better, if you are on a spiritual path or wanting to develop your personal growth schedule a Spiritual Reading or Coaching Package! I would love to assist you with your journey.

Blessings,

Nancy

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Richard Lee

 

 

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