Gambel’s Quail

Gambel's QuailThe Gambel’s quail, known scientifically as Callipepla gambelii, is a small ground-dwelling bird in the New World quail family. It inhabits the desert regions of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Sonora; also the New Mexico-border, Chihuahua and the Colorado River region of Baja California. It is at home in the hot desert, below about 5,500 feet elevation, in brushy desert, canyons and where it is very dry, but nevertheless concentrates near sources of water.
This bird frequents mesquite thickets along river valleys and arroyos, shrublands and cactus, dry grasslands, and agricultural fields. It favors typical desert land, with open ground and a wide variety of shrubs, low trees, and cactus; often around mesquite thickets. Gambel’s Quail is often abundant near desert streams and waterholes, with coveys walking to the water in the morning and evening, giving a variety of clucking and crowing notes. It may be present in open suburbs where some land is left undeveloped. As cities have grown in the desert southwest, these birds have adapted to life in the surrounding suburbs, coming into back yards to eat grain scattered for them. At night, coveys of Gambel’s quail roost in bushes or low trees. They avoid unbroken grassland with no shrubs.
The Gambel’s quail is named in honor of William Gambel, a 19th-century naturalist and explorer of the Southwestern United States.
The species is not as widely introduced as the related California quail. It was however released on San Clemente Island in 1912 by Charles T. Howland et al., where it is currently still established.
Callipepla gambelii birds are easily recognized by their top knots and scaly plumage on their undersides. Like other quail, Gambel’s quail are plump, volleyball-sized birds with short necks, small bills, and square tails. The wings are short and broad.
Gambel’s quail have bluish-gray plumage on much of their bodies. Both genders have a comma-shaped topknot of feathers atop their small heads, fuller in males than females, black faces, and white stripes above their eyes, and are 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 a creamy belly with a black patch. Females are grayer, lacking the strong head pattern.
The bird’s average length is 11 inches with a wingspan of 14–16 inches. These birds have relatively short, rounded wings and long, featherless legs. They scratch for food under shrubs and cacti, eating grasses and cactus fruits.
Gambel’s quail can be commonly confused with California quail due to similar plumage. They can usually be distinguished by range, but when this does not suffice, California quail have a more scaly appearance and the black patch on the lower breast of the male Gambel’s quail is absent in the California quail. The two species are sister taxa which diverged during the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene.
There are two recognized subspecies, the C. g. fulvipectus, the fulvous-breasted quail, which is limited primarily from southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico to southern Sonora in Mexico, and the C. g. gambelii, which is present from Utah and Nevada through the Mojave Desert to Colorado, northeastern Baja California and the Tiburón Island.
These birds forage in flocks from late summer to early spring. They do most feeding on the ground, but readily go up into shrubs and low trees for berries, leaves and buds. The Gambel quail’s diet consists mostly of seeds, leaves, berries. Adults are primarily vegetarians during most seasons. They eat many fresh plant shoots, leaves, and buds, especially during spring, and cactus fruits and the berries of mistletoe, hackberry, and other plants are eaten when available. Seeds are important in the diet at all times. Adults usually eat few insects.
Gambel’s quail primarily move about by walking and can move surprisingly fast through brush and undergrowth. They are a non-migratory species and are rarely seen in flight. Any flight is usually short and explosive, with many rapid wingbeats, followed by a slow glide to the ground. In the late summer, fall, and winter, the adults and immature young congregate into coveys of many birds.
In the spring, Gambel’s quail pair off for mating and become very aggressive toward other pairs. In breeding season, the male gives clear descending notes from a high perch. Mated pairs spend much time exploring territory, apparently prospecting for good nest sites. Nest sites for these birds are usually on the ground, in the shade of shrub or grass clumps; sometimes above ground on stumps or on old nests of thrashers or roadrunners. Typical ground nests are usually built by the female and are nestled in a shallow depression lined with grass, leaves and twigs.
Gambel’s quail are monogamous and rarely breed in colonies. The female typically lays 10-to-12 dull white to pale buff eggs, rather heavily marked with brown in a simple scrape concealed in vegetation, often at the base of a rock or tree. Two females sometimes lay eggs in one nest. Incubation lasts from 21-to-23 days, usually performed by the female and rarely by the male. The chicks are precocial, leaving the nest with their parents within hours of hatching. Both parents tend young and lead them to food sources, but young feed themselves. The chicks are decidedly more insectivorous than adults, gradually consuming more plant matter as they mature.Young can fly short distances at an age of 10 days but are not full grown until later.
There is an annual hunt for this bird in some places. The hunting season usually lasts from October to February.

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