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Gambel's Quail


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A bird of the Desert Southwest, Gambel's Quail is common in much of the Southwest, particularly southern Arizona and New Mexico. Here they look and act very much like the more widespread California Quail, but the two species' ranges do not overlap. Look for these tubby birds running between cover in suburbs and open desert or posting a lookout on low shrubs.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Like other quail, Gambel's Quail are plump, volleyball-sized birds with short necks, small bill, and square tail. The wings are short and broad. Both sexes have a comma-shaped topknot of feathers atop their small heads, fuller in males than females.

  • Color Pattern

    Richly patterned in gray, chestnut, and cream that can serve as excellent camouflage. Males have a bright rufous crest, chestnut flanks striped with white, and creamy belly with black patch. Females are grayer, lacking the strong head pattern. Neither sex is as strongly scaled as the California Quail is.

  • Behavior

    Gambel's Quails walk or run along the ground in groups called coveys that can include a dozen or more birds. They scratch for food under shrubs and cacti, eating grasses and cactus fruits. Flight is explosive, powerful, and short.

  • Habitat

    Lives in the hot deserts of the Southwest—the Sonoran, Mohave, and Chihuahuan—below about 5,500 feet elevation. Frequents mesquite thickets along river valleys and arroyos, shrublands and cactus, dry grasslands, and agricultural fields

Range Map Help

View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

Similar Species

Similar Species

California Quail's range is adjacent but does not overlap Gambel's Quail's. California Quail have strong light-and-dark scaling on the belly and on the nape of the neck. The crown patch of males is darker and less reddish than Gambel's Quail males. Female California Quail lack the female Gambel's creamy belly wash. Mountain Quail has a long, straight topknot, brown face, and strong white bars on the flanks. Scaled Quail is plainer brown with scaly underparts and lacks a topknot.

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. 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.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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