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Singing Quail

Dactylortyx thoracicus

The Singing Quail, a member of the New World quail family, is a modestly sized bird, with males typically ranging from 180 to 266 grams and females slightly lighter at 115 to 206 grams. The length of these birds spans from 20 to 23 centimeters. They exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males donning a dark brown crown, a buff and black collar, and a tawny orange face marked by a black streak behind the eye. Their plumage is a mottled tapestry of gray and brown with delicate white streaks, while the rump presents an olive brown or gray with black vermiculation. Females, on the other hand, have a more subdued gray face and white throat, with paler brown on the breast and flanks. Juveniles resemble females but are distinguished by blackish spots on their underparts.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Singing Quail, look for the male's distinctive facial markings and the species' overall mottled gray and brown plumage. The size variation depending on elevation can also be a useful clue, with smaller birds typically found near sea level and larger ones in the mountains.

Habitat

The Singing Quail is a dweller of the forest floor, preferring environments with sparse undergrowth. It can also be found in older secondary forests, at the edges of old-growth forests, in clear cuts, and even in coffee plantations. Its preferred habitats include subtropical montane forests and cloud forests.

Distribution

This species is distributed across several discrete regions, including northern, western, and southern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula, northern Belize, much of Guatemala, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras. Its elevation range is quite broad, from sea level to heights of at least 3,000 meters.

Behaviour

Singing Quails often forage in small coveys, typically comprising three to five individuals, though groups of up to 12 have been observed. They are ground feeders, scratching in leaf litter and soil for sustenance.

Song & calls

The vocal repertoire of the Singing Quail includes a loud, rhythmic song that starts with hesitant, plaintive whistles and crescendos into a rapid series of varying pitches. This song can be a communal effort with several covey members joining in. Additionally, they emit a weak twittering as a contact call.

Breeding

The breeding season of the Singing Quail extends from February to October. Broods typically consist of two to four chicks. However, much of their breeding behavior remains a mystery to ornithologists.

Similar Species

While the Singing Quail is the sole member of its genus, it's important to note the variation among its 11 subspecies, which can sometimes lead to confusion with other quail species. Pay attention to the specific habitat and regional distribution to aid in correct identification.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Singing Quail includes bulbs, seeds, and insects, which they diligently forage for by scratching through leaf litter and soil.

Conservation status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Singing Quail as Least Concern. With a population exceeding 100,000 birds and a noted resilience to habitat destruction and fragmentation, the species is considered locally common. Nonetheless, it faces threats from deforestation, potential hunting, and grazing within forested areas.

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Singing Quails on Birda

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