There are more than four dozen avian species which are identified as quail. While some of these species are closely related, others have little in common. The anatomical structure of the button quail (turnix) is drastically different from that of the common European quail (coturnix). The crested mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus) doesn’t resemble the turnix or the coturnix.

Of all the species of quail, the only common denominator is size, and even in this regard they range from a few ounces to just under a pound. The origin of many of the quail names is not clear. The most recent quail designates are the New World quail (known collectively as Odontophoridae) a family grouping which includes almost three dozen species. The New World quail were identified as such, when the European settlers where traveling through the Great Plains of the United States. These early settlers noticed small birds which were similar to the European quail (Coturnix coturnix) with which they were familiar.


Infatuated with the idea of the manifest destiny, they called these birds quail. These settlers identified America as their promised land. They believed that just as the Jews were given quail to sustain them during their journey to Israel, so too would the settlers be given quail in their trek across the Great Plains.

The Latin name for the New World quail is Odontophorine, which is derived from the Greek word, odonto, teeth (Roberts, 1999). One of the major, and halachically significant, differences between the coturnix quail and the New World quail is the construction of the beak. While the beak of the coturnix quail is clean and smooth, the lower beak (known as the mandible) of the New World quail is serrated. The difference in the construction of these two beaks indicate that the eating habits of the New World quail is different from that of the European coturnix quail. As such these two cannot be from the same species, and the New World quail cannot be included with the tradition of permissibility which exists for the kosher quail from Europe.

The multitude of species classified as quail, has made it impossible to identify the kosher quail by name alone. Many commercial strains of kosher quail share their name with species which are not accepted as kosher. As such the only way to identify the kosher quail is as dictated in the Talmud (Chullin 63) to learn from a rabbinic expert.

The only quail which are known to be consumed among the Jewish people are the European coturnix quail. There are a number of strains of this bird which are accepted as kosher. However, not all coturnix quail have a tradition of permissibility. There are some species of coturnix quail, such as the Chinese painted quail (Coturnix chinensis) and the Harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei), which are similar in appearance to the kosher quail, but are not accepted as kosher.

Both the Chinese painted quail and the Harlequin quail are sold as pets in the United States.

With the exception of the European kosher quail (Coturnix coturnix) and the bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus), no other species of quail is raised or harvested specifically for their meat. The bobwhite quail is of particular kashrus concern. It is approximately the same size as the kosher quail and costs about the same, depending on the season. Many breeders will freely substitute one for the other, as will the merchants at the meat market. Similar confusion surrounds the quail eggs, since the eggs of the bobwhite may be substituted for those of the kosher quail. A person should not consume quail eggs or slaughter the birds unless they are able to differentiate between the kosher and non-accepted species.

The European or coturnix quail, the species of quail which is accepted as kosher, migrate annually from Africa to Europe and Asia and then back. Prior to their migration, the quail gather in great flocks, sometimes numbering in the millions. The birds are not very strong fliers and when they land, they are exhausted from the ardors of the journey. These small exhausted birds are easily collected, often unable to muster the energy to flee.

In ancient times, the migration route led through Egypt, where the Egyptians would set nets and other devices to harvest these birds. The quail were still harvested in Egypt as late as 1908, when it was recorded that 1,000,208 quail were harvested and exported to England, France and Germany. It is possible that many more quail were eaten locally or exported to other markets.

The symbol of the quail had special significance to the ancient Egyptians. A hieroglyphic element which approximated the letter w, was the quail. Similarly, there are a number of pictures found in the ancient pyramids, which clearly depict the quail. While most of these depictions are in stone, there are a few in full color, leaving little doubt as to the bird being depicted.

The fact that the European quail was known to the ancient Egyptians of the biblical period, does not indicate that the quail were the birds consumed by the Jewish people. Though Exodus 15:13 and Numbers 11:31-32 details the consumption of the slav the Talmud (Yoma 75b) explains that there are four different species of slav. While it is now assumed that the slav mentioned in the Torah is the European quail, this is not the view of Rashi who identifies the phisioni or partridge as the bird consumed by the Jews at the time of the exodus (
Yitzvhak Einiei YD 134:16).

The European quail, (Coturnix coturnix) are accepted as kosher in America, and have been served in a number of kosher restaurants. The considerable expense involved in cleaning the quail, combined with the miniscule amount of meat produced have generally forced the bird off the menu.

Most of the quail slaughtered in America were certified by Rabbi Shlomo Zweigenhaft ל’’ז. His family had slaughtered quail for various communities for the last one hundred and fifty years. In order to understand the scope of the tradition of permissibility, an OU delegation went to visit Rabbi Zweigenhaft with a dozen varieties of kosher and non-certified quail, and a film was made of the methods through which the kosher quail could be distinguished from the non-certified variety. Although the video was destroyed (due to a technical error) a letter from Rabbi Zweigenhaft was obtained by Rabbi Weinberger and republished in his work A Practical Guide to the Mitzvah of Shiluach Hakan. In the letter, Rabbi Zweigenhaft testifies that the European quail were consumed in Radzin, Radomsk and other parts of Poland. Among the quail breeds presented and accepted were the Japanese, Tibetan (also known as the Brown), Tuxedo, and Pharaoh quail. Despite the exotic names, all of these quails are varieties or regional variations of the common European quail. Rabbi Zweigenhaft explained that the quail could be identified by its body structure as well as the feathers on the top of its head, which are distinct from those of other species of quail which are not accepted as kosher. There are additional breeds of quail which are pure white (they are similar to the more common Texas AM) quail and blond (sometimes called Manchurian quail). These have been raised and observed by the OU. There is no doubt that these are color strains of the permitted common Europea

How long ago did they live? What were they like? Were they really dim witted brutes who were outwitted by our ancestors, and doomed to extinction?

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7/15/2013

The naming may be a little off, but the European strain is known as the Common quail (Coturnix coturnix) and the Japanese/American strain known as Japanese quail. The term "Coturnix quail" refers to the genus. The process of domestication is on of the main reason the Japanese quail differs from the Common quail, not to mention the genetic variations.

Note, spelling error: The birds are not very strong fliers (flyers) and when. Fliers means something different.

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