California quail - from the visiting coveys that pick over my deck, to the summertime family flocks with darling chicks, to the crazy antics of various individuals I can come to recognize. Yet no matter how much I watch these birds, or how much I think I know them, they can always surprise me.
One such surprise was just a few days ago on the walk leading up to our front door. The sidewalk is wide and separated from the driveway by a thick bed of evergreen plantings that numerous birds like to take advantage of, and I've often seen the quail scurry for cover into the pines. I've even witnessed them occasionally pluck berries for a quick snack, or scratch in the dirt seeking out insects and other random seeds.
What I hadn't seen before, however, was a sentinel so dedicated as to not move for nearly an hour. An adult male was standing guard in the middle of that walk, perfectly still, as other quail were quietly roosting in the scrub. My husband and I were working in our large family room and could peer out the front window to check, and the quail was looking about, but not overly concerned. There were no signs of injury, disorientation, or trauma, and indeed, he was just watching out for the covey.
I've seen guard birds before, keeping watchful eyes and a tense demeanor as a flock forages, but the rest of the quail were roosting, and this lone bird was in no way stressed or anxious; he was just there. In the middle of the sidewalk, out in the open and highly visible, but highly content.
It thrills me no end that the quail are so at peace while visiting my yard that they can feel so secure and unmolested. To see wild birds so gentle and relaxed can't help but be relaxing to me, and it is why I work so hard to keep my yard a safe place for them to visit. And while they're welcome to stand guard as long as they deem it necessary, I'll always be watching out for them as well.