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Scaled Quail Life History



Scaled Quail inhabit arid areas of the southwestern United States and Mexico, mostly desert grasslands and shrublands. They do best in the relatively undisturbed habitats of refuges and parks, but they also use crop fields and livestock pasture that contain some patches of native vegetation. They use arid grassland habitats with abundant forbs (non-woody plants) and limited shrub growth. In areas that receive more rain, shrubs become more prevalent creating less suitable habitat. Key plants include sandsage, prickly pear, tree cactus, cholla, skunkbush sumac, fourwing saltbush, wild plum, soapweed, and littleleaf. They also favor grasslands in pinyon-juniper woodlands. In central and southern Texas, the chestnut-bellied subspecies of Scaled Quail (castanogastris) may use habitats with more shrub cover than other subspecies.

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Scaled Quail eat seeds, leaves, and insects, mostly taken from the ground by pecking. They also nip other vegetation, both leaves and fruits, from the plants directly. Like other quail, they feed mostly early in the morning and late in the afternoon. For much of the year, they forage in groups called coveys that spread out over small areas, calling to each other as they advance in roughly the same direction. Most of the diet consists of the seeds of forbs (non-woody plants), shrubs, and trees. Some key foods include clover, broomweed, snakeweed, field sandbur, purslane, prairie sunflower, wild carrot, rough pigweed, crown-beard, elbowbush, Fendler spurge (and other spurge species), Russian-thistle, and the larger seeds of hackberry, Roemer acacia, catclaw acacia, desert-yaupon, and mesquite. In some places, Scaled Quail eat large amounts of grass seed, including panic-grasses, plains bristlegrass, tall dropseed, and rough tridens. They also eat agricultural grains such as alfalfa and readily consume grasshoppers, leaf-bugs, lace bugs, scarab beetles, snout beetles, cicadas, and other insects when available, mostly in the warmer months. They catch insects by pecking, gleaning, even chasing and jumping.

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Nest Placement


Nests are set on the ground, well concealed inside dense, low vegetation such as cactus, yucca, shrubs, or small trees. They sometimes nest in grasslands and agricultural fields, even under agricultural equipment.

Nest Description

Both male and female help construct a shallow nest of grass and leaves, measuring about 9 inches across and 3 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:7-14 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:1.2-1.3 in (3.09-3.26 cm)
Egg Width:1.0-1.0 in (2.43-2.51 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.
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Ground Forager

The Scaled Quail breeding season begins in April, with males perching prominently on a fence post, bush, or other high point and delivering a high-pitched whock! repeatedly, mostly in the early morning. Some males, especially those without a mate, give this song through the entire breeding season, but most mated males sing less or not at all once nesting begins. Males court females with a display called “tidbitting,” in which males peck the ground, erect the feathers of the neck and flanks, and bob their head as they prance with high steps, calling all the while. Females sometimes respond with similar behavior; they indicate willingness to pair by crouching. Although Scaled Quail do not hold territories, males with mates are aggressive toward other males during this season and frequently chase them away from mates. Scaled Quail appear to be monogamous in their mating system, and they are social for most of the year, gathering in September into small coveys of 15–40 birds, usually an aggregation of several family groups. When disturbed or hunted, Scaled Quail flee on foot and when flushed seldom fly far. Like other small quail that live in coveys, they sit in circular formations, facing outward, to sleep at night.

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Common Bird in Steep Decline

The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that Scaled Quail populations were roughly stable from 1968–2015, although it indicates possible sharper declines in the last decade of that period. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population of Scaled Quail at 5.1 million. It rates the species a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score but lists the species as a Common Bird in Steep Decline because of recent sharp declines. Overgrazing is a serious threat to Scaled Quail populations, as this practice reduces both food and cover for the species.

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Dabbert, C. Brad, Greg Pleasant and Sanford D. Schemnitz. (2009). Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. 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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