Follow the Drinking Gourd:
Interpretation Over the Last Twenty Years – Notes
I put the quail question to Paul Johnsgard, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (His book, Grouse and Quails of North America won the Wildlife Society's 1973 annual book award for wildlife biology. He has written widely about US birds, see here.)
He wrote back: "The only migratory quails in the world are the Old World quails (Coturnix). I don't know of any North American bird called a 'quail' other than the bobwhite and the other true quails. I think the lyrics simply note that when early spring arrives ('the sun come back') the quails begin to call to attract mates, and then it is time to head north." (Personal communication.)
According to Claude L. Jenkins, Certified Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, "The northern bobwhite is not a migratory species. It is not physiologically, morphologically, or behaviorally adapted for migration. Bobwhites are morphologically designed for rapid flights for short distances. However, they prefer to walk and typically fly only when threatened. Radio-telemetry studies have shown that bobwhites are not very mobile. Depending on habitat quality, geographic distribution, season, and other factors, the home range of bobwhite coveys is 20 to 160 acres." (Personal communication.)
For more information on the northern bobwhite, see Ecology and Management of the Bobwhite Quail in Alabama.
See also the quail article in The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, "No species of New World quail is migratory..."
The number of runaways in the harvest months dropped, owing to
increased surveillance. Roughly 18% of all escape attempts came in the
fall. Otherwise, 27% of the escape attempts came in each of the three
remaining seasons. Runaway Slaves, Rebels on the Plantation, John
Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, p. 231.
Copyright 2008 - 2012, Joel Bresler.