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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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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
9.4–10.6 in
24–27 cm
Wingspan
12.6–14.6 in
32–37 cm
Weight
4.9–8.1 oz
140–230 g
Relative Size
About the size of Northern Bobwhite; half the size of a Ring-necked Pheasant
Other Names
  • Colin de Californie (French)
  • Codorniz californiana (Spanish)
  • California Partridge, Valley Quail, Crested Quail, Topknot Quail (English)

Cool Facts

  • The California Quail digests vegetation with the help of protozoans in its intestine. Chicks acquire the protozoans by pecking at the feces of adults.
  • Several California Quail broods may mix after hatching, and all the parents care for the young. Adults that raise young this way tend to live longer than adults that do not.
  • Pairs of California Quail call antiphonally, meaning that the male and female alternate calls, fit them into a tightly orchestrated pattern.
  • The California Quail’s head plume, or topknot, looks like a single feather, but it is actually a cluster of six overlapping feathers.
  • As an adaptation to living in arid environments, California Quails can often get by without water, acquiring their moisture from insects and succulent vegetation. During periods of sustained heat they must find drinking water to survive.
  • The California Quail is California’s state bird and has had roles in several Walt Disney movies, including "Bambi."
  • California Quail nests can contain as many as 28 eggs. These large clutches may be the result of females laying eggs in nests other than their own, a behavior known as "egg-dumping."
  • California Quail are pretty as well as popular with game hunters. They’ve been introduced to many other parts of the world, including Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand.
  • The oldest known California Quail was 6 years 11 months old.

Habitat


Scrub

California Quail are characteristic birds of coastal sagebrush, chaparral, foothills, and high desert of California and the northwestern United States. They’re also frequent visitors to backyards, especially if there’s birdseed available at ground level.

Food


Seeds

Mainly a seedeater; also eats leaves, flowers, catkins, grain, manzanita and poison oak berries, acorns, and invertebrates such as caterpillars, beetles, mites, millipedes, and snails. Diet is typically about 70 percent vegetarian.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
12–16 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
1.3 in
3.2 cm
Egg Width
1 in
2.5 cm
Incubation Period
22–23 days
Egg Description
White to creamy with variable brown markings.
Condition at Hatching
Covered in brownish down. Can walk, follow parents, and peck at the ground immediately after hatching.
Nest Description

The nest is usually a shallow depression lined with stems and grasses, and often placed near vegetation or rocks for protection. Nest range from 5-7 inches across and 1-2 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Ground

Female California Quail typically hide their nests on the ground amid grasses or at the bases of shrubs or trees. Occasionally places nest up to 10 feet off the ground.

Behavior


Ground Forager

You’ll normally see California Quail walking, running, or scratching at the ground and leaf litter for seeds and other food. They occasionally forage in trees. California Quail generally forage in open areas but stay close to cover. When running, they can move amazingly quickly despite their short legs. If pressed by a predator they will burst into flight with rapid, whirring wingbeats. California Quail form flocks known as coveys in fall and winter; these usually contain family groups and can number more than 75 individuals. They roost in trees and feed mainly in the morning and evening, spending most of the day in shrubs that shade them from the sun and protect them from predators.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that California Quail populations increased by 1.8 percent per year between 1966 and 2010. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 3.8 million, With 71 percent living in the U.S., 3 percent in Canada, and 11 percent in Mexico. They rate a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. California Quail are popular game birds, and between 800,000 and 1.2 million are shot each year in California alone. This level of hunting pressure does not seem to be hurting California Quail populations.

Credits

Range Map Help

California Quail Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident. Rarely moves more than 10 miles from where it hatched.

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 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