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Scaled Quail


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A ground-dwelling bird of the southwestern desert grasslands, the Scaled Quail usually runs to escape enemies rather than flying.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
9.8–13.8 in
25–35 cm
15 in
38 cm
6.2–6.7 oz
177–191 g
Other Names
  • Colin écaillé (French)
  • Codorniz escamosa, Codorniz azul (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The white crest gives the Scaled Quail its colloquial name of "cotton-top."



Scaled Quail live year-round in desert grasslands and shrublands of the Southwest, including open plains, hills, mesas, sagebrush, and pinyon-juniper woodlands up to about 7,000 feet elevation. Gambel's Quail and Northern Bobwhite tend to use denser or shrubbier habitats that Scaled Quail, in places where they overlap.



Scaled Quails eat mostly seeds from forbs, shrubs, or grains. Insects are also eaten, especially in the spring, as are green leaves which are most commonly consumed during the winter months.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
10–13 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
1.2–1.3 in
3.1–3.3 cm
Egg Width
0.9–1 in
2.4–2.5 cm
Incubation Period
22–23 days
Egg Description
Creamy, speckled with light brown.
Condition at Hatching
Alert and downy. Newly hatched chicks leave nest and follow parents around.
Nest Description

The ground nest of the Scaled Quail is a depression lined with grass stems and leaves. Both males and females construct the nest, which is around 3 inches deep and 9 inches across.

Nest Placement


Scaled Quails hide their nests on the ground within dense vegetation. Nest sites include yucca plants, small bushes, potato patches, honey mesquite, packrat mounds, dead Russian thistle, sand sagebrush, acacia, and other desert herbs and shrubs soapweed, and overhanging rocks.


Ground Forager

Scaled Quail are highly social and live in large groups (coveys) from September to April, when pairs form and the coveys break up for the breeding season. They are good runners and usually run from predators, rarely choosing to fly far. At night, they roost in groups on the ground and form a small circle with their heads facing outward. When temperatures are cooler, this roosting circle becomes tighter. Scaled Quails are monogamous and unmated males call to attract mates throughout the breeding season.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Scaled Quail populations declined by almost 2% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 57%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 5 million, with 52% in Mexico , and 48% in the U.S. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on Partners in Flight Continental Concern Score. Scaled Quail is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, and is listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline on the 2014 State of the Birds Report. The main threat to Scaled Quail, along with other upland game birds of the Southwest, is the reduction in food and cover that comes from overgrazing. Studies suggest that intensive grazing of a pasture for short periods may be better than year-round grazing, particularly during drought years. Ways to improve habitat for Scaled Quail include plowing land, allowing weeds to grow up, or creating brush piles, but not providing supplemental food in the form of grain (judged as too expensive to be practical). Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas have hunting seasons for Scaled Quail, but hunting does not seem to reduce the species' numbers.


Range Map Help

Scaled Quail Range Map
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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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