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Gambel's Quail

Callipepla gambelii ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: ODONTOPHORIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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 (the two species' ranges don't overlap). 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.

Keys to identification Help

Gamebirds
Gamebirds
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

Gambel
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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

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.

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.

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