The term “quail” is used to refer to two distinctly different, though related, groups of birds within the order Galliformes. Old World quail are in the pheasant family, while New World birds are in the family Odontophoridae. While the birds may look superficially similar, they are fact genetically quite distinct; the reason that the name is used to discuss both groups is because early colonists were not terribly skilled at identifying wildlife, and they had a tendency to re-use Old World terms rather than coming up with more specific names for New World discoveries.

Old World quail are fairly small, plump, migratory birds. Most of them are found in the genus Coturnix, and they have been hunted as game birds for centuries. Because of their small size, quail are time-consuming to prepare, but many consumers think that the preparation is worth it for the delicate flavor of well-prepared meat. As a result, some species are domesticated and kept on farms for the purpose of ensuring a steady supply of meat and eggs, another delicacy.

European quail nest on the ground, despite the fact that they are capable of flight, and the birds eat a diet that is primarily composed of seeds. Their name comes from the Latin coacula, mimicking the sound of their cry, and they generally have mottled plumage, short tails, and short necks with rounded heads. Like many creatures in the order Galliformes, quail are not known for their searing intelligence, and in captivity, they have been known to drown themselves by accident, run into walls, and injure themselves in other strange pratfalls.

New World quail are smaller than their Old World namesakes, and they are strictly terrestrial. The birds vastly prefer walking and running to flight, only taking flight when they feel that they have no other option. This is a source of amusement to some people who interact with them on a regular basis, as the birds will run faster and faster from a pursuer, bobbing their heads frantically, before finally fluttering to nearby bushes and trees.

These quail are also pursued as game birds, with many hunters enjoying the meat when it is in season. Because the birds are so small, people typically require several to fill up, and the birds may be inventively stuffed or presented in other creative ways to make the most use of the limited amount of tender, dark meat.