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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

California Quail

Callipepla californica ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: ODONTOPHORIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The California Quail is a handsome, round soccer ball of a bird with a rich gray breast, intricately scaled underparts, and a curious, forward-drooping head plume. Its stiffly accented Chi-ca-go call is a common sound of the chaparral and other brushy areas of California and the Northwest. Often seen scratching at the ground in large groups or dashing forward on blurred legs, California Quail are common but unobtrusive. They flush to cover if scared, so approach them gently.

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Keys to identification Help

Gamebirds
Gamebirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    California Quail are plump, short-necked game birds with a small head and bill. They fly on short, very broad wings. The tail is fairly long and square. Both sexes have a comma-shaped topknot of feathers projecting forward from the forehead, longer in males than females.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are rich gray and brown, with a black face outlined with bold white stripes. Females are a plainer brown and lack the facial markings. Both sexes have a pattern of white, creamy, and chestnut scales on the belly. Young birds look like females but have a shorter topknot.

  • Behavior

    California Quail spend most of their time on the ground, walking and scratching in search of food. In morning and evening they forage beneath shrubs or on open ground near cover. They usually travel in groups called coveys. Their flight is explosive but lasts just long enough to reach cover.

  • Habitat

    You’ll find California Quail in chaparral, sagebrush, oak woodlands, and foothill forests of California and the Northwest. They’re quite tolerant of people and can be common in city parks, suburban gardens, and agricultural areas.

Range Map Help

California Quail Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Female or immature

    California Quail

    Female or immature
    • Short dark "topknot"
    • Pale gray face and breast
    • Pale belly with brown scaling
    • Short tail
    • © Chuq Von Rospach, Los Osos, California, August 2008
  • Adult male

    California Quail

    Adult male
    • Long dark "topknot"
    • Scaled belly with yellow and chestnut wash
    • Black and white face mask
    • © Chuq Von Rospach, Los Osos, California, August 2008
  • Adult male

    California Quail

    Adult male
    • Pale belly with brown scaling
    • Brown flanks with white streaks
    • © neike, British Columbia, Canada, June 2008
  • Adult male

    California Quail

    Adult male
    • Bluish gray breast
    • Scaled belly with yellow and chestnut wash
    • Long dark "topknot"
    • © quasimodo4502, San Francisco, California, January 2009
  • Female or immature

    California Quail

    Female or immature
    • Dull brownish gray overall
    • White stripes on brown sides
    • © quasimodo4502, San Francisco, California, December 2008
  • Adult males and females

    California Quail

    Adult males and females
    • Often seen in small flocks or coveys
    • © L.W. Neish, British Columbia, Canada, February 2007
  • Adult male

    California Quail

    Adult male
    • Scaled belly with yellow and chestnut wash
    • Long dark "topknot"
    • Black and white face mask
    • © Sharon Hadley, February 2007

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Northern Bobwhite

    Adult
    • Similar to all plumages of California Quail
    • Dark brown and white face mask
    • Chestnut, brown, and white patterning on body
    • © Mike Powers , Ithaca, New York, July 2008
  • Adult female

    Gambel's Quail

    Adult female
    • Similar to adult female California Quail
    • Upper breast finely streaked with black
    • Belly unscaled
    • © cl_cochran , Arizona, June 2008
  • Adult male

    Gambel's Quail

    Adult male
    • Occurs in Desert Southwest; does not overlap with California Quail
    • Cap more reddish than brown
    • Unscaled yellow mid-belly; black belly patch
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, February 2009

Similar Species

Gambel's Quail is more contrastingly patterned, lacks the scaled underparts of California Quail, and occurs farther east. Mountain Quail has a shorter tail, a long, straight head plume, and a bold flank pattern. The Gray Partridge has no head plume and rusty-striped flanks, with a rusty face. Chukar also lacks a head plume and has a black-outlined white face.

Backyard Tips

You can attract California Quail to your yard by sprinkling grain or birdseed on the ground and providing dense shrubbery nearby for cover. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Look for this bird in dry, patchy, low vegetation, and listen for the prominent Chi-ca-go call. These birds may forage calmly quite close to you, but will flush to cover if you startle them.

Get Involved

Report your sightings of quail to eBird to help create online maps and charts showing this species' abundance, distribution, and changes through time

You Might Also Like

For more photos of California Quail, visit the All About Birds Birdshare site

Explore sounds and video of California Quail from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Find comprehensive information on California Quail and hundreds of other birds for as little as $5 in The Birds of North America Online from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists' Union