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All About the Fascinating, Ground-Dwelling Gambel's Quail

Mike and Dorothy are avid birders and nature lovers. Dorothy is a former newspaper reporter who has written several nature-related books.

Although they are primarily ground dwellers who prefer running over flying, a Gambel's quail can often be seen perched on a downed tree or fence post, serving as a lookout for others.  They prefer to stay together as protection from predators.

Although they are primarily ground dwellers who prefer running over flying, a Gambel's quail can often be seen perched on a downed tree or fence post, serving as a lookout for others. They prefer to stay together as protection from predators.

Did Someone Lose a Cockatiel?

I remember vividly the first time I saw a Gambel's quail. From a distance, I thought someone must be missing a cockatiel because I had never seen a bird with such a prominent, comma-shaped plume on the top of its head.

Upon closer inspection, however, I could tell that it was a different type of bird - one that I had never seen before. It was, in fact, a Gambel's quail, a type of quail that is found mainly in the Southwest, which explains why we had never seen one in Arkansas.

We had just moved to New Mexico from Arkansas and quickly became fascinated by the plants, birds, and trees that we had never seen before, but none were more fascinating than the beautiful Gambel's quails.

A female Gambel's quail will lay between 5-15 eggs that are a dull white color with varying shades of dark splotches. A concealed nest on the ground is preferred by the female, although nests have been found high in trees.

A female Gambel's quail will lay between 5-15 eggs that are a dull white color with varying shades of dark splotches. A concealed nest on the ground is preferred by the female, although nests have been found high in trees.

Short Hops Are Preferred to Flying

Gambel's quails are plentiful in the Southwest. They always travel in groups called coveys and can be seen darting from one cover to another, avoiding predators. It is not uncommon to find them in groups of a dozen or more traveling along the ground together. They forage along the ground's vegetation in the early morning and late afternoon hours, scratching for food under the plentiful cacti and shrubs of the Southwest. They especially love to eat the fruit of cacti.

The flight of a covey of Gambel's quails is brief but powerful. During the middle of the day, the covey will spend their time preening or sleeping, always in an area in which they feel safe, such as an area of thick vegetation.

Population Rises/Falls Depending on Rainfall

In times when there is an abundance of rain, which will provide ample places of vegetation in which to hide from predators, these quails go through a period of larger clutches and plenty of chicks. During dry winters, there is less food, fewer places to hide, and fewer clutches. They are considered diurnal animals (active during the day and sleeping at night) like most humans!

Short Lifespan

When Gambel's quails are raised in captivity, they can often live up to five years but that is not the case in the wild, where they are preyed upon by coyotes, snakes, raptors, foxes, and bobcats, and their average lifespan is only about 18 months.

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Male Gambel's quails have a black face, with white-striped eyes, and patches of black and yellow on their chests. They have prominent dark, thick copper-colored feathers on their heads, and are about 11 inches tall.

Male Gambel's quails have a black face, with white-striped eyes, and patches of black and yellow on their chests. They have prominent dark, thick copper-colored feathers on their heads, and are about 11 inches tall.

A female Gambel's quail has less prominent markings than the male bird and her plume is thinner.  She does not have the black markings on her face and chest, and the white-striped eyes that are prominent on the males.

A female Gambel's quail has less prominent markings than the male bird and her plume is thinner. She does not have the black markings on her face and chest, and the white-striped eyes that are prominent on the males.

This beautiful female Gambel's quail strolled across the back of our yard in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.  Judging from her size, she had babies onboard.

This beautiful female Gambel's quail strolled across the back of our yard in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Judging from her size, she had babies onboard.

Scientific Classification of Gambel's Quails

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Odontophoridae
  • Genus: Callipepla
  • Scientific Name: Callipepla gambelii
Baby Gambel's quails

Baby Gambel's quails

© 2022 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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