Birds on a bus

13 Dave Milner with one of his femaleJapanese Coturnix quail 13
2 Dave has handled thebirds since they were born 2
c Wally the weka has madefriends with the quail c
d Wally often pops inside d
g Even solar animals arewelcome aboard Myth g
i The quail sleep withtheir legs in the air i

Dogs, cats, rabbits, even guinea pigs are not unusual pets in camper vans. But it’s quail that have won the heart of one seasoned animal-lover, says Lyn Barnes.

Dave Milner has a following on Facebook for his posts about the quail living in his motorhome. He regularly uploads photos of his latest brood on the page, called Motorhoming with Pets.

"The quail are just a delight to have around," says the retired cheesemaker. "They’re small, very people-friendly, easy-care, hand-tame and provide eggs that are large for the size of the bird and are very nutritious."

His six pint-sized Japanese Coturnix hens, which hatched mid-September, are producing 30 to 35 eggs a week. Dave gives away most of the eggs or trades them for fruit. In December, he hatched 12 Northern Bobwhites, distinctive because of their white faces, and will keep a few.

"They graze outside in a cage during the day, and bury into wood shavings inside at night, asleep with their feet up in the air."

The 69-year-old breeds meal worms to ensure his birds have their required highprotein diet.

"They love them, they go crazy for them."Along with the quail onboard his 7m Mitsubishi Rosa (named Myth) live a 15-year-old English Cocker Spaniel called Sharna, a large rabbit named Millie, Maxi the cockatiel, Finch the finch, and 1000 mealworms.

"And my wife, Raewyn," adds Dave. The couple married last March. In the evening, there’s lots of juggling. "The animals take over the driver’s space at night, with the quail above the motor between the seats. I’ve had birds all my life. I love them. Well, all animals, really."

It hasn’t always been this way. Life changed dramatically for Dave when his first marriage ended seven years ago. It meant having to sell up and part with most of his pets, including the house cow and pet sheep - and he missed his animals. These days, Dave and Raewyn winter over at Bethany Park in Kaiteriteri.

But with the ‘no pet’ policy over Christmas, they pack up and move to Motueka. Dave had to modify Myth and extend the bed to fit two comfortably. But the pair manage in the two-berth camper, which has a toilet and shower, although Dave admits the bunks have become storage areas.

Along with the mealworms, the birds eat a special quail crumb that Dave buys in from Christchurch, plus strawberries, spinach, courgettes and other greens. But as for eating the birds, Dave’s emphatic: "No quail will be eaten out of this bus."

Myth has also attracted a few other Dave has handled the birds since they were born The quail sleep with their legs in the air Wally the weka has made friends with the quail Wally often pops inside birds at Kaiteriteri: tūī feed at the door and two kererū roost on the branch above the awning each night, plus there’s a weka nicknamed Wally.

"Wally comes inside every morning and night for a bit of grain bread. If the door is open, he pops up the step and climbs up on the couch, and taps the keys on the computer. "He’ll take his first bit of bread for his babies then come back.

If we’re in bed, he’ll shake the broom hanging on the wall outside, so we hear him," adds Dave. Wally will have to make friends with other long-term campers soon, as Dave and Raewyn are planning six months around the lower South Island with all the creatures on board.

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