Quail Of North America


Quails belong to the order Galliformes and both the Phasianidae and Odontophoridae families. Quail are mid-sized birds with a short-tail and are commonly known as game birds. 

In North America, there are six native species of quails. The six species are the California quail, the mountain quail (largest quail), the Gambel’s quail, the Montezuma quail (smallest quail), the scaled quail, and the Northern bobwhite. 

There are thought to be 95 Old-world quail species in the world. The 95 Old-world quail species are classified into subfamilies of Phasianinae or Perdicinae. However, most of the 32 members of the New-world quail species constitute the family Odontophoridae

The size, shape, and color depend on the species. Although the color of the quail generally matches their environment, they are usually brown colored birds with dark brown or black patches. Some with banding can be found. The male is generally more colorful than the female. 

Habitat of the Quail

A wide variety of habitats in the different regions and continents can be found where quail make their nest. A quail’s habitat preference varies from species to species, although many species share the same range and habitat. 

Quail can be found in many habitats including grasslands, meadows, savannas, tall grasses, although agricultural fields and farmland are also common areas where quail live. 

Distribution Of The Quail

Quail are found in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa, but are not found in Antarctica. However, not all the continents or regions are suitable for the habitat of each species of quail. 

North America’s environment is suitable for New-world quails while Old-world quails generally live in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. 

Diet Of The Quail

Most species of quail have a similar diet, although there is some variation between species. Some species are herbivorous and eat only plants, while some species are omnivorous, eating both plants and insects. Generally, quail will eat seeds, berries, grasses, buds, and more. They will also prey on spiders, beetles, worms, insect larvae, ants, and small invertebrates. 

Behavior Of The Quail

Different species of quail exhibit different types of behavior. Some are solitary, while some prefer to live in small flocks. Most quail can be found on the ground during foraging to search for food. If scared, they prefer to have dense bushes and grasses to hide, although will also find low trees to hide in.

Breeding System Of Quail

The quails’ breeding systems also depend on the individual species. Different species follow different reproductive strategies. The breeding period starts in the spring, and it lasts until autumn. 

The female quails lay eggs and will incubate them until they hatch. Usually, a female quail lay at least 20 eggs in single nest though some species lay amazingly large clutches of eggs. 

California Quail

California Quail

The most popular quail, the California quail is also commonly known as the valley quail.  

The California quail male is marked with white and black on the head and can be distinguished by a chocolate color crown and a crest that is shaped like a comma. They have barred underparts and a blue breast.

The California quail is native to California, but can be found in Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

They can be found mostly on the ground in search of food. The California quail is mainly a seed eater. They also eat leaves, flowers, catkins, grain, and invertebrates like caterpillars, beetles, and mites. 

Mountain Quail

Mountain Quail

The Mountain quail is a gray, white and chestnut-colored plump bird. They are known as an elusive bird that can be found in the western scrub and highlands. 

Among the six species of quail found in North America, the mountain quail is the largest bird. The mountain quail eats plants, insects, beetles, and ants. Although the mountain quail flourish in both arid and wet habitat, they are found seldom in grassland. 

A mountain quails diet includes small fruits, flowers, and seeds of many smaller plants. The breeding biology of the mountain quail is yet to be fully researched, but according to records the male attracts the female by presenting food using his flank and tail feather. 

During the mating period, the male might present itself holding out their wings, cocking and fanning the tail, and flaring the feathers of the neck and flanks. Females are known to crouch in front of their potential mate.

Gambel’s Quail

Gambels Quail

Gambel’s quail, a gregarious desert bird, is decorated in gray, chestnut, and cream plumage.  

Gambel’s quail’s habitat is mainly thorny and bushy vegetation deserts including river valleys, creeks, washes, and oak woodlands of the high desert. 

Gambel’s quail live on plants and seeds. They also eat leaves, shrubs, grasses, fruits, and prickly pear. They mainly depend on fruits in the summer and fall, while they eat insects in the spring session, and particularly during their nesting seasons. 

Gambel’s quail are like to be found walking in groups on the ground. During their breeding period, these large groups break up and make new groups of mainly juveniles and males. 

Montezuma Quail

Montezuma Quail
Alan SchmiererOpens in a new tab. Flickr CC1.0Opens in a new tab.

The Montezuma quail is patterned with stripes and dots. The Montezuma quail are found mainly in grasslands-mountain and oak-woodlands of North America. They move slowly, normally not moving more than 150 feet per day. They move from one place to another place in small family-clusters, and seldom form large groups. 

Tubers and insects are their main food, but also eat acorns. Their mating is monogamous. However, 60% of the total population is male. This leads to one female getting two male partners. After mating the female lays and incubates the eggs in various nests to raise the chicks. 

Scaled Quail 

Scaled quail
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The scaled quail can be found in areas of mostly desert grasslands, scrublands, undisturbed habitats, and parks. They eat mainly seeds, leaves, and fruits from the plants directly. Like other quail, their feeding time is the morning and late afternoon. They make their nests on the ground, using cactus, yucca, or small trees. 

The breeding period of the scaled quail starts in April. During the breeding period, the males deliver a high pitched repeated “whock!” to attract females. Their mating court display is known as “tidbitting”.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

The Northern bobwhite is the most common small gamebird across the Eastern United States.  

Their name comes not from their color but from their voice which sounds like they are saying bob-white.

The male is brown above, with scaly white underneath. They have a white face with black around the eyes. The female is similar but has a creamy colored face.  

The Northern bobwhite can be found living in grasslands and farms and can be found mainly along the eastern half of the U.S.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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