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California Quail Life History


ScrubCalifornia 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.Back to top


SeedsMainly 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.Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundFemale 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.

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:12-16 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:1.3 in (3.2 cm)
Egg Width:1.0 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.
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Ground ForagerYou’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.Back to top


Low Concern

California Quail populations increased by approximately 0.8% per year between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 5.8 million and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. These 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.

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Calkins, Jennifer D., Jennifer Gee, Julie C. Hagelin and Dale F. Lott. (2014). California Quail (Callipepla californica), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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Learn more at Birds of the World