Today, when cleaning up after our seven Coturnix quail, we noticed that one had a round ball attached to one of his long toes.
Upon further inspection, the ball actually appeared to be dried quail poop, maybe with some feathers mixed and pieces of feed mixed in.
The quail was still running around, but it couldn’t possibly have been comfortable, so we began our attempt to remove the ball. Removal was not easy, however, as it had hardened. Making matters worse, it covered the whole front of the quail’s toe and claw, so it was hard to even touch it to inspect it without worrying about doing any damage to some part of the quail’s fragile little feet.
What we did:
First, we put about half an inch of water in the bathtub and put the quail in there so that his feet would be wet, but the rest of him wouldn’t. He did some running around, and tiny particles of the ball came off, but, again this thing had hardened quite a bit. We didn’t want to use soap on the bird because we didn’t want any adverse reactions. We did put some vinegar on a Q-tip and use that to swab at the ball too. We waited about ten minutes, but the ball showed very little signs of breaking down.
Realistically, we might have had to let the bird to soak its foot for a half an hour or so.
Instead, we used small scissors and very, very careful cut tiny pieces of the ball off, also working it very, very gently loose (we say very gently because almost any movement of the ball in one direction or the other or up or down seemed to caused the bird discomfort). This took time and patience, and we are lucky that we had a calm bird, so we do want to stress that, if this seems like something that you don’t want to mess around with, we definitely recommend taking your bird to a veterinarian and letting them handle the procedure!
Although we breathed a huge sigh of relief when toe and nail seemed intact, we did put a tiny bit of Neosporin on the little one’s toe/claw area just in case their might be any infection. Interestingly, we later read about someone who did something like that on FloridaButtonQuail.
Once the poop comes off if you notice any abrasions or swelling, you can apply a natural/non-toxic ointment to help prevent infection. I like using burts bees res-q (link is to show what the product is but you can often find it in natural health food type stores too).
Finally, we had a free bird, which we released back in with the other birds.
Then, we went to see if this had ever happened to any quail owners before because, frankly, we thought it was pretty bizarre. Apparently, though, it’s a thing! We noticed a number of people had asked about getting dried quail poop balls off their birds’ feet on different pet forums, and that various websites have articles on the subject.
As quail owners know, getting dried quail poop off anything is difficult. Getting it off your bird’s foot is extremely hard as well as delicate operation because you’ve got a frightened, tiny animal that might not hold still, and their little birdie toes and claws and so fragile and small.
We also later learned that a quail might try to get the poop off itself and end up with a bleeding foot from a loose or lost claw. In addition, sometimes, when the poop stays on, it can cut off circulation and a quail can lose a toe that way.
Therefore, if you have quail, we recommend doing what we have now learned to do as a result of this experience: Check your quail’s feet daily! If they are fairly tame, you can pick them up one at a time and take a quick looks, or, do a visual inspection in their enclosure, making sure to look closely at each one.
We feed our quail and clean their floor each day, but they are so small and quick, plus their bodies are so big compared to their feet, that we didn’t often get a good look at what is going on with those feet. But now we will. That way, if there’s a problem, the sooner we catch it, the easier it will be to deal with.
By the way, some people recommend using sand in the bottom of their quail’s enclosure, and swear that they have little or no problem with the poop balls as a result. We haven’t tried this yet.*
*Update (September 2019): We have been keeping sand in the bottom of the quail aquarium and have had no further problems with poop ball since.
For more about using sand and other tips for keeping your quail happy and healthy, check out our article at this link: