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Pearl in the Egg

On Saturday morning we heard some ticking outside the window. It was a male California quail and his mate that looked like this pair. They were so sweet and reminded me of an experience I had with one some years ago.

Back when my daughter was about ten years old, she found a quail egg on one of the paths between corrals at the boarding stable where we kept our horse. She was very excited about it and wanted to hatch it.

I figured the chance of it hatching was nil. Nicole found the egg right out in a public place, suggesting to me that a very young hen had been surprised by it. It must not have been there long, and its prospects seemed wildly unlikely.

Nevertheless, I borrowed an incubator and we sat and watched it. Quail eggs are supposed to hatch in 23 days. By the time we got to 27 days, we figured we would have to give up on it.

A friend had come over to spend the night with Nicole, and the girls asked if they could take the egg out and open it, see what was inside. I agreed, since I’d never had much hope and was pretty sure nothing was in there.

A moment later, they raced back in the house, breathless. “It cheeped!” Nicole gasped. Sure enough, just as the girlfriend raised it up to smash on the walk, they heard the peeping. Nicole grabbed it and rushed it in the house.

We replaced it in the incubator and the next morning, we had a baby quail. We named her Pearl, since she looked like a glowing pearl rolling across the bed. She snuggled up to us for warmth. As she grew, she often perched on the back of my neck, under my hair. Quail are social birds, and we were her covey.

She spent most days at liberty in the house. Quail droppings are small and dry, easy to vacuum up. She spent nights in the bird room in a cage. She liked to rest behind the tv. One night a possum threatened her, sneaking around, determined to get at her. She shrieked with fear, and we brought the cage inside.

She turned into a wonderful, dear pet whose company we enjoyed for about a year.

We were devastated the day she got out of the house while we were gone. We had actually gone out to see if we could find some other quail to live with her. She needed more social life than we could give her. Sometimes I wished she didn’t sit on me all the time. I felt she needed companionship of her own kind.

I feared a cat had gotten her. I felt guilty that I had rejected her, and now she was gone. We put notices all around the neighborhood and in local vets’ offices, but no sign.

Setting down after lunch to read and nap, as was our custom, was not the same without her comforting presence. We cried, missing her.

A couple of weeks later, a woman called to say she’d seen our sign at the vet’s office, and thought she knew where our dear Pearl was. The week before, she and her son had been astonished when a quail had emerged from the bushes in the preserve next door to their house and jumped right up on his arm, then jumped up and sat on his head! They were accustomed to feeding the wild quail there, but had never had one do this. Quail generally keep to themselves, so this surprising behavior amazed them. When she saw my notice, she put it together.

So we were gratified to know that Pearl had found herself the ideal home: A regular food supply from humans, but the large family she had always craved. I will always be grateful that she stayed with us so long and was such a blessing to us.

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