Latin name: Coturnix
Other names: Caille, Ortigas, Ortygas, Ortygometra

Quails cannot be eaten, because they feed on poisonous seeds

General Attributes

Quails feed on poisonous seeds, so the ancients forbade anyone to eat them. They migrate over the sea at the end of summer. The Greeks call the quail ortygas because they were first found on the island of Ortygia (Delos). The leader of the quail flock is ortygometra, or "mother of quails." Quails seek a leader from another species of bird, because when the ortygometra is near the ground, it is attacked by the hawk.


The quail mother attacked by the hawk as she nears the earth represents the Christian who will be attacked by the devil if he approaches worldly things.


Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 33): Though quails prefer to remain on the ground, though they arrive on migration by flying. They are sometimes a danger to sailors; arriving near land at night, they land on the sails of ships and cause them to sink. As protection against hawks quails try to obtain an escort of other birds, including the tongue-bird (glottis), eared owl (otus) and ortolan (cychramus). When they fly they prefer a north wind to carry them, since they are weak and become tired; this fatigue is why they give a mournful cry while flying. If they encounter a wind blowing against them, quails pick up small stones or fill their throats with sand to serve as ballast. Quails like to eat poison seeds; for this reason quails are not eaten. This bird is the only creature other than man to have epilepsy, so as a charm against the illness it is customary to spit at the sight of the bird.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:64-65): The quail (coturnices) is named from the sound of its voice. The Greeks, having first seen them on the island of Ortygia, call them ortugai. They cross the sea at a fixed time. The quail (ortygometra) is so named because it leads the flock. When a hawk sees the first one coming toward land it seizes it, so they try to get an escort of a different kind of bird to avoid being first. They like to eat poison seed, so the ancients said they could not be eaten.