That Quail Lady

In the Brooder
Jul 8, 2016
Quail is a common game bird. People eat it all the time. And sometimes when they eat it, their muscles disintegrate and their kidneys give out. Learn how these birds periodically turn themselves poisonous.
The common quail lives all over Europe. Every year it migrates down to northern Africa. That’s an impressive feat, and a dangerous one, considering the quail is an extremely tasty animal. Hunters regularly hunt quail, including migrating quail.

Occasionally, hunters get a very nasty surprise. A little while after eating the quail, their muscles get sore, weakening and swelling up at the same time. Soon afterwards they get nauseous, and their heart races. Confusion and disorientation set in, and then all-over body pain. But even the most confused and pained person knows that when their urine turns dark brown, it’s time to go to the doctor.
What they’ve got is rhabdomyolysis. Their muscle tissue has begun to degrade, and its components are forced into the bloodstream. This throws off the electrolyte balance in their body, which is part of what leads to their nausea and confusion. Meanwhile, the proteins in their bloodstream are shutting down their kidneys. Although rhabdomyolysis can be treated, it can also be fatal.

How does a quail turn itself into a weapon? On their migration, the quail eat whatever is on hand, and one of the plants they often find is hemlock. Hemlock is poisonous to us, but not to the quail, which gorge themselves.
Not all quail are poisonous during their migration, but the sickness, coturnism, is a common enough phenomenon that it was remarked on by Aristotle. People haven’t stopped eating them, though. Hunters and their dinner guests still regularly show up at hospitals with coturnism. That must be one delicious bird.

Read it a little bit ago. Thoughts???


5 Years
Jul 4, 2016
Central Indiana
I would imagine it could happen, but obviously not likely in domestic quail. Never had a problem eating any of mine, or even wild quail here, regardless of their diet. There are many animals we know about whose meat, or milk, changes flavor and chemistry depending on what they eat or drink. Butter or meat from grass or corn fed cows is one example. Milk from goats who eat alfalfa or onion plants is another. Many people I know who didn't like goats milk had never had milk from any goat other than those allowed to eat whatever they wanted.

Back to the quail. The thing I don't understand there is how the hemlock would contaminate the meat. I would think it would take time for that to occur. And at that point why would it still be poisonous to humans? Antivenom and tetanus are both bad for humans, but are filtered through animals to create medicine.

I will be looking for more information on the quail to see just why this supposedly happens, but it is interesting.



Feb 26, 2015
My dad was an avid Quail hunter, and a doctor. We always ate every single quail he brought home..geezzz they were good. No one ever got sick. None of his hunting buddies, or their families, got sick. So, yeah, it must be rare. I do know that when people eat wild rabbits that have been nibbling on poisioness mushrooms (it doesn't hurt them), the people get sick.


7 Years
Jan 5, 2013
Whether it is rare depends on your location (and what the quail are eating). I work in medicine and live in PA and I've heard of a few cases but that's out of tens and tens of thousands. It's under-reported because in general people don't ascribe the sickness to the quail but rather to "food poisoning" in general.

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