BELDERČĪN (quail, Coturnix coturnix L.; fam. Phasianidae). The wide distribution of the quail in the Near and Middle East (see Hüe and Etchécopar, pp. 225-26) and its relative abundance as both a migratory and sedentary bird are reflected in a great number of Arabic and especially Iranian names, “standard” and dialectal: in classical Persian bowdana/būdana, karak, samānī/samāna/samān, valaj/valač/velaj, etc., vartej/vartīj/vertīj/vardīj, etc., vošm (cf. the title or name Vošmgīr, lit. “quail catcher,” borne by the second Ziyarid ruler of Ṭabarestān and Gorgān, who was infatuated with hunting and hawking); in contemporary Persian (and in some Persian dialects, e.g., Kermāni) badbada and beldeṛčīn (a Turkish word, which is the most common current designation); in Caspian dialects vošūm/vošom (Lāhījān, parts of Māzandarān, Gorgān), ošūm/ūšūm (Rašt, Anzalī), varde (Deylamān, Āmol), etc.; in Semnāni dialects badbadā, varde; in Kurdish dialects badbada, hawērda, karak, kar(a)wāla, qorqorūk, samānak, etc. (for these and other Kurdish names, see Mokrī, pp. 107-08); in Baḵtīāri tūhī; in Baluchi batera, jangali bat; in Pashto nwaṛaz; in classical Arabic qatīl al-raʿd (lit., “thunder-killed,” because, according to Šarīf Edrīsī [d. ca. 560/1165], as quoted by Ebn al-Bayṭār, III, p. 32, “it dies [of fright] upon hearing the thunder”), salwā and somānā (some authors, however, do not consider these two the same bird; see e.g., Tonokābonī, s.vv., who equates salwā with the Tk. yalve/yelve and the Tonokābonī las-e bāl [ = water rail, Rallus aquaticus], and somānā with the Tk. bīldeṛčīn [sic], Māzandarānī varde, and Deylami voš(ə)m); for the variants of somānā (sommān, etc.)—arabicized from samānī—and for dialectal Arabic names, see Maʿlūf, pp. 198-99.
The quail is mentioned in both the Bible and the Koran. According to the Bible (Exodus 16:13, Numbers 11:31-33, etc.), Jehovah sent down—in addition to manna—large flocks of quail (šelāw) to provide the starving Israelites with food in the wilderness. The Koran refers three times quite casually (Cairo ed., 2:57, 7:160, 20:80) to these two divine boons (mann “manna” and salwā “quail”) to the children of Israel. Allusions to these Koranic reminiscences are occasionally found in Persian poetry as unexpected (God-sent) boons. One of the earliest allusions is by Lāmeʿī Gorgānī (5th/11th century): “Rain and snow are now falling on us from the cloud, like quail (samān) raining from the sky upon the sons of Israel” (Dīvān, ed. S. Nafīsī, Tehran, 1319 Š./1941, p. 156). Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (quoted in Dehḵodā’s Loḡat-nāma, s.v.) adjured: “Refuse to talk to an ignorant person, for it is not appropriate to place the mann or the salwā before a pig.”
Various virtues are attributed to the quail in traditional or popular Islamic medicine. According to Ebn Sīnā (II, p. 252) eating quail flesh causes tamaddod (strain, distension) and tašannoj (convulsion, spasm), “not because the quail feeds only on ḵarbaq [hellebore] but because this qowwa [virtue, force] is inherent in its flesh.” Tonokābonī (loc. cit.), dismissing the report that the quail (somānā/bīldeṛčīn) feeds “mostly” on hellebore and reflecting the views of some previous authors (especially Dāwūd Anṭākī, Taḏkera I, p. 173), says that quail flesh is very nutritious, fattening, diuretic, lithotriptic, and aphrodisiac (for women only); that licking daily a grain of the zahra (gall bladder) of a quail, coated with honey, is unequaled for curing epilepsy; that dropping quail blood into an aching ear soothes the pain; and (on the authority of Abu’l-Faraj b. Telmīḏ, d. 560/1165) that eating a whole roasted quail (“with no part thereof discarded”) cures a person bitten by a mad dog. According to Qazvīnī (Cairo ed., p. 278), the quail keeps silent all winter, but when spring arrives it starts crying at dawn; it feeds on bīš (aconite), which is a deadly poison.
Another legend, mentioned in some Persian sources (e.g., Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, s.v. samānī), that the quail rises from (or comes out of) the sea, is traceable to a misinterpretation by some earlier Arab authors of a migratory phenomenon in the Mediterranean basin. Damīrī (I, pp. 563-64) quotes Mortażā Zabīdī (d. 1205/1790): “The somāna . . . is a migratory bird, [but] where it comes from is not known; so certain people say it comes out of the salt sea (al-baḥr al-māleḥ), flying [sic] over the sea while one of its wings is immersed in the sea and the other spread on it like a sail.” The fact is that quails are physically unfit for long flights and, when forced to migrate, take advantage of favorable winds to effect their long journeys (see Hüe and Etchécopar, loc. cit.). Flocks of quail from Europe migrate to North Africa and eastern Mediterranean countries in the fall and back to Europe in March and April (Maʿlūf, loc. cit.). During those treks the birds often become exhausted, fall into the sea (apparently managing to survive as Zabīdī described), are blown ashore, and settle on the ground to rest. It is then that the weary birds are easily caught in nets or even by hand. This biannual phenomenon also may explain the miracle of salwā reported in the Old Testament and alluded to in the Koran (see Encyclopaedia Judaica XIII, Jerusalem, 1978, s.v. quail).
Another legend is based on a fanciful interpretation of the quail’s cry: Supposedly the badbada (actually an onomatopoeic imitation of the male’s cry) is so called because, having eaten one grain of wheat from the possessions of a child and having then repented of his evil dead, he repeats “bad bad e” (bad is bad; cf. the popular French moralistic interpretation of the same cry: Paye tes dettes, i.e., pay your debts). The quail’s chattering, taken for loquacity, has, in turn, led to the popular belief that eating its eggs generates fluency and eloquence in speech and causes young children to speak precociously (Anṭākī, loc. cit.; Tonokābonī, s.v. somānā; the same effect is popularly attributed to the eating of sparrow heads).
Owing to its delicious flesh, the quail has always been valued as a game bird. In Iran in the past it was hunted with falcons (or hawks) or trapped. Nowadays quail hunters, guided by their dogs, beat the bushes and fields to raise the quails, which they shoot on the wing with shotguns (Mokrī, p. 109). M. Pāyanda (pp. 480-81) describes the way in which the quail (vūšūm) is still caught in his native eastern Gīlān: The local quail catcher follows his pointer through fodder fields, dried rice fields, and the like, where the quail usually nest, and tries to catch the birds frightened by the dog with his lāldām (a long forked wooden stick or bamboo fitted with a large net bag).
Dāwūd Anṭākī, Taḏkeratūli’l-albāb wa’l-jāmeʿ le’l-ʿajab al-ʿojāb, 2 vols., Cairo, 1308-09/1890-91.
Kamāl-al-Dīn Moḥammad Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kobrā, 2 vols., Cairo, 4th ed., 1970.
Doerfer, I, p. 218 (būdana), II, pp. 312-13 (beldeṛčīn).
Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ le-mofradāt al-adwīa wa’l-aḡḏīa, 4 pts. in 2 vols., Būlāq, 1291/1874.
Ebn Sīnā, Ketāb al-qānūn fi’l-ṭebb, Pers. tr. by ʿA. Šarafkandī, Qānūn dar ṭebb II, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.
F. Hüe and R. D. Etchécopar, Les oiseaux du Proche et du Moyen Orienṭ . . . , Paris, 1970.
A. Maʿlūf, Moʿjam al-ḥayawān, Cairo, 1932.
M. Mokrī, Farhang-e nāmhā-ye parandagān dar lahjahā-ye ḡarb-e Īrāṇ . . . , 3rd ed., Tehran, 1361 Š./1982-83.
M. Pāyanda, Farhang-e Gīl o Deylam, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.
Zakarīyāʾ b. Moḥammad Qazvīnī, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt, ed. Cairo, 1970, p. 278.
U. Schapka, Die persischen Vögelnamen, Ph.D. dissertation, Würzburg, 1972, pp. 26 (beldeṛčīn), 28 (būdana), 53 (tīhū), 131 (samānā), 212 (karak), 276 (vartaj), 280 (valaj).
M. Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī, Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn, Tehran, [1360 Š./1981?].
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 2, pp. 123-124