California Quail: Medium quail with distinctive, curled black head plume and white-bordered black throat. Breast is gray and belly is sharply scaled. The flanks are brown with white streaks and back is olive-brown. Legs and feet are gray. Alternates several stiff, rapid wing beats with short glides.
Range and Habitat
California Quail: Originally, this species was a resident from southern Oregon south to Baja California, but it has been introduced to the Pacific northwest, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Its preferred habitats include brushy chaparral foothills, live oak canyons, and adjacent deserts and suburbs.
The GALLIFORMES (pronounced gal-lih-FOR-meez), an order found on most continents, includes five families (some taxonomic systems only recognize four of these, classifying the fifth as a sub-family), among which are the megapodes (birds that incubate their eggs in the ground), guineafowl, and quail.
Only found in the Americas, the Odontophoridae (pronounced oh-don-toh-FOR-ih-dee), or the quail family, encompasses thirty-two species in nine genera.
There are twenty-one species of quail in nine genera that occur in North America. The Northern Bobwhite of eastern brushy fields and the plumed quail species of the west are members of this family.
The quail are known for their ability to remain hidden and immobile until almost underfoot whereupon they burst into the air with whirring wings; a trait that makes them popular among hunters. They are also known for their frequent, distinctive calls such as the whistled, “bob-white” of the Northern Bobwhite and the “chi-ca-go” of the California Quail.
Small, chicken-like birds, quail are rotund, short-tailed and short-winged with stout bills, and strong legs and feet. All North American species have crests or in the case of the Mountain, Gambel’s and California Quails, elongated head plumes.
Quail in North America sport handsomely patterned plumages that are a mix of browns, grays, and white with black markings. The patterns of streaks and spots help conceal these birds in the grassy undergrowth they inhabit.
Quail are birds of the grassy undergrowth and are distributed in the United States from the east (more common in the southeast) to the west except for the northern and central Great Plains, and most of the Rocky Mountains. The Northern Bobwhite is the only quail species found in the east while the west has several species; Scaled and Montezuma Quails in the southwestern grasslands, Gambel’s Quail in the hot Sonoran Desert and California and Mountain Quails in west coast habitats.
North American quail species do not migrate; a fact that limits them to warmer, milder climates and periodically reduces populations of Northern Bobwhite at the northern edge of their range.
Quail are highly social birds almost always found in small groups or “coveys.” These family groups forage on the ground for insects, seeds, and grain and prefer to hide or run from danger rather than taking flight.
All quail species in the United States have stable populations except for the Northern Bobwhite, a species that has demonstrated a steady decline related to changes in its habitat.
Some quail species, such as the Northern Bobwhite, are known to sleep huddled together to conserve heat. They sleep in an outward-facing circle to facilitate escape from nocturnal predators.