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A photo of a California Quail (Callipepla californica), male
California Quail, Male

California Quail

Callipepla californica

The California quail, known scientifically as Callipepla californica, and colloquially as the California valley quail or Valley quail, is a charming small ground-dwelling bird. It is easily recognized by its distinctive curving crest or plume, which is black in males and brown in females. The male boasts a dark brown cap and a striking black face, with a grey-blue chest and a light brown belly, while females and immature birds present a more subdued grey-brown plumage with a lighter belly.

Identification Tips

When identifying the California quail, look for the signature forward-drooping plume on the head, consisting of six feathers. Males have a robust contrast of colors with a dark cap and face, and a grey-blue chest, while females are more uniformly grey-brown. Both sexes exhibit brown flanks adorned with white streaks.

Habitat

These birds favor shrubby areas and open woodlands, where they can be found scuttling about in the underbrush.

Distribution

Native to the southwestern United States, the California quail has been introduced to various regions including British Columbia, Hawaii, and parts of South America, as well as New Zealand and certain Australian islands.

Behaviour

The California quail is a highly sociable bird, often seen in small groups known as "coveys." They engage in communal dust baths, creating circular indentations in soft soil to maintain their feathers. These birds are year-round residents and adapt well to the fringes of urban environments, though their numbers may decline with increasing human encroachment.

Song & calls

The California quail has a repertoire of vocalizations, including the "chicago" call for social interaction, "pips" for contact and warning, and the "squill" during the breeding season, which males use to interrupt their mates or as a form of agonistic communication.

Breeding

The breeding grounds for California quail are typically in areas with ample shrubbery or open woodlands. Females lay about 12 eggs in a shallow ground scrape lined with vegetation. After hatching, the young quail stay with both parents, and families may join together in communal broods. It is not uncommon for females to lay more than one clutch per season, leaving the first with the male to care for while she lays anew.

Similar Species

The closest relative of the California quail is Gambel's quail, which has a longer crest and a brighter head, and lacks the scaly appearance of the California quail.

Diet and Feeding

California quail primarily forage for seeds and leaves on the ground, occasionally consuming berries and insects. Toyon berries are among their favored foods.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists the California quail as Least Concern, though local populations can fluctuate significantly, and some areas have seen declines due to urban expansion.

State bird

The California quail proudly holds the title of state bird of California, a designation it has held since 1931. Despite its emblematic status, the quail's presence has varied across the state, with notable declines in urban areas such as San Francisco.

California Quail Sounds

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California Quail Fun Facts

Did you know?
A California Quail's crest is made up of 6 feathers.

California Quails on Birda

Sightings

More New World Quail

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