Select Page

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

In North America, there are six native species of quails. The six species range from the largest, Mountain quail to the smallest, Montezuma quail. California quail, Gambel’s quail, Scaled quail, and Northern bobwhite can all be found in North America.

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

If you or someone you know loves birds, check out these great bird gifts on Amazon by clicking here.

California Quail

California Quail

California Quail, scientifically known as Callipepla californica, is an iconic bird species native to the western United States, particularly California.

Males are marked with white and black on the head and can be distinguished by a chocolate-colored crown and a crest shaped like a comma. They have barred underparts and a blue breast. Adorned with a distinctive plume that curls gracefully from the top of its head, these quails are easily recognizable. Their plumage exhibits a delightful combination of soft grays, browns, and blues, with intricate patterns and striking facial markings.

California Quail is native to California but can be found in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. They can be found primarily on the ground in search of food. California quail is mainly a seed eater. They also eat leaves, flowers, catkins, grain, and invertebrates like caterpillars, beetles, and mites. This dietary diversity has ecological implications, as it contributes to seed dispersal and helps control insect populations.

Mountain Quail

Mountain Quail

Mountain Quail, scientifically known as Oreortyx pictus, is a remarkable and distinct upland game bird that graces the mountainous regions of the western United States.

Sporting a combination of rich earthy tones, Mountain Quail exhibit a striking pattern of white, chestnut, and gray, which enhances their appeal as an upland game bird. They are known as elusive birds found in the western scrub and highlands. 

Among the six species of quail found in North America, Mountain Quail is the largest. Mountain Quail eats plants, insects, beetles, and ants. Although Mountain quails flourish in arid and wet habitats, they are seldom found in grassland. 

They contribute to seed dispersal and help control insect populations, playing a significant part in maintaining the ecological balance of their habitat.

During the mating period, the male might present itself holding out its 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 mates. They are often found in family groups, where several generations work together to raise their chicks.

There are three species of cuckoo in North America.  Find out what they are in this article I wrote. 

Gambels Quail

Gambel’s Quail

Gambel’s Quail, scientifically known as Callipepla gambelii, is a species native to the arid landscapes of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Gambel’s Quail is their ability to thrive in desert environments. These birds have evolved various adaptations to cope with the challenges of their arid habitats. Their plumage, which boasts an intricate blend of earthy tones, helps them camouflage effectively among desert vegetation.

Their sturdy legs enable them to navigate through rough terrain, while their water-conserving behaviors, such as foraging for succulent plants and minimizing water loss, allow them to survive in areas with limited moisture. Gambel’s Quail serves as a testament to the resilience of wildlife in desert ecosystems.

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

Gambel’s Quail lives on plants and seeds. They also eat leaves, shrubs, grasses, fruits, and prickly pears. They depend on fruits in the summer and fall, but in spring their diet consists of insects, particularly during their nesting seasons. 

They are often found in coveys, forming close-knit family groups that forage, rest, and provide protection together. The covey system also aids in foraging and communication, with quails using distinctive calls to keep in touch with their group members.

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

There are at least 22 species of owl in North America.  Find out what they are in this article I wrote.

Montezuma Quail
Alan Schmierer Flickr CC1.0

Montezuma Quail

Montezuma quail, scientifically known as Cyrtonyx montezumae, is the smallest quail in North America. They are found in the mountainous regions of Mesoamerica. These quails are often considered one of the region’s hidden treasures.

One of the most striking features of Montezuma Quail is their plumage, patterned with black and white stripes and dots These colors come together to create a visually stunning mosaic that helps these quails blend seamlessly into their rugged, high-altitude habitats.

Montezuma Quail is found mainly in the grassland-mountain and oak-woodlands of North America. They move slowly, usually not moving more than 150 feet per day. They move from one place to another in small family clusters and seldom form large groups. Montezuma Quail are known for their elusive nature, often shying away from human presence and taking refuge in the dense undergrowth of their forested habitats.

Tubers and insects are their primary food, but they also eat acorns. Their diet also consists of various seeds, fruits, and vegetation, contributing to seed dispersal and regulating insect populations in their montane habitats. By foraging on the forest floor and digging for food, they help aerate the soil and influence plant regeneration.

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
Greg Schechter Flickr CC2.0

Scaled Quail 

Scaled Quail, scientifically known as Callipepla squamata, can be found in desert grasslands, scrublands, undisturbed habitats, and parks of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

One of the defining features of Scaled Quail is their intricate plumage, adorned with a mosaic of intricate scalloped patterns. These patterns give the birds their common name and provide remarkable camouflage amid the arid terrain they inhabit.

They eat mainly seeds, leaves, and fruits from the plants directly. Like other quail, their feeding time is in the morning and late afternoon. They make their nests on the ground using cacti, yucca, or small trees. 

Scaled Quail are known for their fascinating social behaviors, often seen in small family groups foraging for food in the desert. Their distinctive covey calls echo through the arid air, a testament to their tight-knit communities and cooperative survival strategies.

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

Conservation efforts are crucial to safeguard the future of Scaled Quail populations, especially as their arid habitats face threats from habitat degradation and fragmentation.

Nightjars are fascinating birds. Find out how they hunt in this article I wrote.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite, scientifically known as Colinus virginianus, is a species found in the eastern and southeastern regions of the United States. These small quails are characterized by their mottled brown and white plumage, a perfect adaptation to the grassy, shrubby landscapes they call home. Their

Northern Bobwhite is the most common small gamebird across the Eastern United States. Their name comes not from their color but their call, which sounds like the words bob-white.

These small quails are characterized by their mottled brown and white plumage, an adaptation to the grassy, shrubby landscapes they call home. 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 look.  

Northern Bobwhite plays a vital role in shaping the ecosystems they inhabit. Their omnivorous diet includes seeds, insects, and vegetation, making them essential components of grassland and early successional habitats. By feeding on seeds and insects, they contribute to seed dispersal and help control insect populations, thus influencing the overall health and diversity of their ecosystems.


Habitats Of Quail

Quail are adaptable birds that can be found inhabiting an array of landscapes across North America, each uniquely suited to their specific needs and behaviors.

Grasslands and meadows serve as favored habitats for numerous quail species. Here, the open expanses of grasses and low-lying vegetation provide ideal cover for these ground-dwelling birds. The ample cover offers protection from predators, while the abundance of grass seeds and insects in these areas serves as a reliable food source for quail. The quintessential bobwhite quail, for instance, thrives in grassy landscapes, where its cryptic plumage allows it to blend seamlessly into the tall grasses and shrubs.

In addition to grasslands, savannas also attract various quail species. These transitional landscapes, with a mixture of grasses and scattered trees or shrubs, provide open spaces and woody cover. This balance is essential for quail species like the Montezuma Quail, which seek out the shrubby understory and grassy clearings within savanna habitats.

Agricultural fields and farmlands often become habitats for quail due to the abundance of grain crops, seeds, and insects. Gambel’s Quail, in particular, has shown a remarkable ability to thrive in arid landscapes, including agricultural areas, where they capitalize on available food resources and the cover provided by crop fields.

There are seven species of grebe in North America.  Find out what they are in this article I wrote

Distribution Of Quail

Quail are found in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa, but not in Antarctica. However, not all 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. 

  1. Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus):
    • Northern Bobwhite quails are primarily found in the eastern and southeastern United States.
    • Their range extends from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard, covering states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and as far north as New England.
    • They are also found in parts of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America.
  2. California Quail (Callipepla californica):
    • California Quail is native to the western United States, particularly California, Oregon, and Washington.
    • They have been introduced to other regions of North America, including British Columbia, Hawaii, and parts of Nevada and Utah.
  3. Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii):
    • Gambel’s Quail are primarily found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
    • Their range includes Arizona, New Mexico, southern California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Texas.
  4. Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae):
    • Montezuma Quail are primarily found in Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States.
    • In the United States, they inhabit southern Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas.
  5. Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata):
    • Scaled quails are primarily found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
    • Their range includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
  6. Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus):
    • Mountain quails are primarily found in the western United States, particularly in mountainous regions.
    • Their range includes parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Idaho.

There are five species of Loon in North America.  Find out what they are in this article I wrote. 

Diet Of 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 are omnivorous, eating both plants and insects.

Their natural diet includes a variety of seeds from grasses, weeds, and wildflowers, making them important seed dispersers in their ecosystems. Quail also consume insects, small invertebrates, and occasionally small amphibians or reptiles. Their foraging behavior includes scratching the ground with their strong feet to uncover hidden seeds and insects.

Quail are opportunistic feeders and adapt their diet based on seasonal availability, consuming more animal matter, such as insects, during the breeding season when protein is crucial for the development of their chicks. They are known to feed in open areas like grasslands, meadows, and agricultural fields, making them valuable contributors to pest control by reducing insect populations.

Behavior Of Quail

  1. Social Structure: Quail are typically social birds and often form coveys or groups, especially during the non-breeding season. These coveys provide safety in numbers, making it easier to detect predators and share foraging information.
  2. Foraging: Quail are ground-dwelling birds with a strong preference for walking or running rather than flying. They are primarily ground foragers and use their strong beaks and feet to scratch and dig for seeds, grains, insects, and small invertebrates. Quail play a crucial role in seed dispersal due to their foraging habits.
  3. Dust Bathing: Quail engage in dust bathing as a form of grooming and parasite control. They will create small depressions in the soil or dust and then roll around in it, covering their feathers with dust. This behavior helps remove excess oil and parasites from their plumage.
  4. Nesting: Quail are known for their well-hidden ground nests, which are usually concealed within dense vegetation or tall grasses. They lay a clutch of eggs, and both males and females may share incubation duties. Their nests are typically simple scrapes in the ground lined with plant material.
  5. Vocalizations: Quail are known for their distinctive calls. Different quail species have various calls, which they use for communication within the covey, warning of predators, or during the breeding season to attract mates. The male’s call, often a series of whistles or repetitive notes, is a common sound in quail territories.
  6. Flight: While quail are primarily ground-dwelling birds, they are capable of short, explosive bursts of flight when threatened. Their flight is characterized by rapid wingbeats and is typically used as a last resort to escape danger.
  7. Mating and Courtship: Quail engage in courtship displays, which may include the male puffing up his feathers, spreading his tail, and performing dance-like movements to attract a mate. Once paired, the male and female may engage in mutual preening and other bonding behaviors.
  8. Parental Care: Both male and female quail may share parental responsibilities, including incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks once they hatch. Quail chicks are precocial, meaning they are born with their eyes open and are relatively independent shortly after hatching.
  9. Seasonal Migration: Some quail species, such as the Northern Bobwhite, engage in seasonal migrations to find suitable habitats and food sources. They may move to areas with more favorable conditions during harsh winters or dry seasons.
  10. Anti-predator Behavior: Quail are vigilant and have keen senses to detect predators. When threatened, they may freeze in place to blend in with their surroundings or flush suddenly to escape predators. Their cryptic coloration and camouflage help them evade detection.

Birds are diverse in size, color, diet, and other ways.  Please find out more in this article I wrote.

References And Further Reading

Quails: Ecology and Management by James P. Muir and Neil W. Smith

This comprehensive book covers various aspects of quail ecology and management, including habitat requirements, behavior, conservation, and hunting.

A Guide to Quail of the World by Pheasants Forever

While it covers quail species worldwide, it provides valuable information on North American quail species.

Grouse & Quails of North America by Paul A. Johnsgard

This book explores the diverse group of grouse and quails found in North America, including their natural history, distribution, and conservation.

Managing a nd Conserving Wildlife on Private Lands: Texas by Timothy E. Fulbright and Nova J. Silvy

While focused on Texas, this book contains information on quail management and conservation that may be applicable to other regions as well.