The common quail (Coturnix coturnix) is one of the few species in which mate-switching (when different pair bonds are established within a single breeding attempt), has been recorded. In this study, we report the characteristics of pair bonds (description, number of males per female and duration) by monitoring a wild population of common quail (28 females and 49 males) by radiotracking. 57% of the females studied (n = 14) showed mate-switching, whereas 22% of the males were serially polygynous, successively forming pairs with a series of females. The fitness of females with mate-switching, measured in terms of clutch size and hatching success, did not differ from that of females bonded with one male. The analysis of paternity in three families by multilocus DNA fingerprinting revealed genetic polygamy in two of the nests studied. A male sired offspring with two females, and we obtained genetic evidence for intraspecific brood parasitism. We discuss how these behavioural and ecological observations may relate to the particular mating system of the common quail.