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Gambel's Quail


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.


Both male and female Gambel’s Quail give a distinctive 3–4 note call when separated from covey members. Potential threats or something suspicious near the covey triggers a chip-chip-chip, and if a direct threat occurs the birds give a crear-crear or squawk alarm call as they take wing. During the breeding season males announce their availability with a kaa or cow call given from an elevated perch.

Other Sounds

Rapid wingbeats of flushed birds create a whirring sound.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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