Living Bird Magazine
Gambel's QuailCallipepla gambelii
- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Odontophoridae
Gambel’s Quail are gregarious birds of the desert Southwest, where coveys gather along brushy washes and cactus-studded arroyos to feed. Males and females both sport a bobbing black topknot of feathers. The male’s prominent black belly patch distinguishes it from the similar California Quail. This ground-hugging desert dweller would rather run than fly—look for these tubby birds running between cover or posting a lookout on low shrubs.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Gambel's Quail in the early morning and late afternoon, when temperatures are moderate and the birds are active. You'll find them in shrubby or thorny areas where they forage on the ground in fairly large groups. At times, one member of the covey will post a lookout on a fence post or shrub top; otherwise you'll need to look carefully at ground level. If you get too close without seeing them, they may startle you by suddenly exploding into flight.
- Colín de Gambel (Spanish)
- Colin de Gambel (French)
Gambel's Quail are ground-feeding desert birds—so they are likely to visit yards that offer birdseed and water at ground level. They sometimes also come up to elevated platform feeders. You can attract them with sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and milo. Visit Project FeederWatch for more information on how, what, and where to feed birds in your backyard.
- Cool Facts
- Birders in Hawaii may catch a glimpse of Gambel’s Quail on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano. The Hawaii Division of Fish and Game introduced this popular game bird (mostly from game farms) to all of the main Hawaiian Islands in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Today a few remain on the Big Island, as well as on Lanai and tiny Kaho’olawe.
- Gambel’s Quail are part of the “scaled quail” complex, which also includes California Quail, Scaled Quail, and the Elegant Quail of northwest Mexico. The species hybridize in captivity and in the wild; you can find Gambel’s x California Quail hybrids where their ranges overlap in southeast California.
- Like many desert-dwelling species, Gambel’s Quail populations undergo a “boom-and-bust” cycle. A year with ample winter-spring rainfall that generates lots of green vegetation will yield larger clutches and an abundance of chicks. Dry winters mean less food and lower productivity.
- Just before her eggs hatch, the female Gambel’s Quail calls to the chicks, who cheep to each other from inside the eggs. The eggs hatch in synchrony, with the chick cutting a neat hole in the largest part of the shell and leaving an intact piece of membrane to serve as a “hinge” — the chick pushes on the shell and opens the “door” that it has created.