Gambel’s Quail, Callipepla gambelii

The Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) is a species of small ground-dwelling bird in the New World quail family. It is found in desert regions of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas in the United States; and Sonora, and Chihuahua in Mexico. The Gambel’s Quail is named in honor of William Gambel, a 19th century naturalist and explorer of the southwestern United States.

The adult has an average length of 11 inches with a wingspan of 14 to 16 inches. It is easily recognized by its top knot and scaly plumage on the underside. Gambel’s Quail has gray plumage over much of the body, with the male of the species having copper feathers on top of the head, black face, and white stripes above the eyes. The wings are relatively short and rounded. The legs are long and featherless.

Gambel’s Quail is commonly confused with the California Quail due to similar plumage. They can usually be distinguished by range, but also, the California Quail has 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 diverged during the Late Pleistocene or Early Pleistocene, 1 to 2 million years ago.

The Gambel’s Quail moves primarily on the ground and can move surprisingly fast through brush and undergrowth. It is a non-migratory species and is rarely seen in flight. When it does take flight, it is typically in short, explosive bursts with many wing beats followed by a slow glide to the ground.

In late summer, fall and winter, adults and young of Gambel’s Quail congregate into flocks of many birds. In the spring, they pair up for mating and become very aggressive toward other pairs. The chicks feed mainly on insects, gradually switching to plant matter as they mature. These are monogamous birds that rarely breed in colonies. The female lays 10 to 15 eggs in a simple scrape concealed in vegetation, often at the base of a rock or tree. Incubation lasts from 21 to 24 days, usually performed by the female and rarely by the male. The chicks leave the nest with their parents within hours of hatching.

There is an annual hunt for this bird in some places. The hunting season usually lasts from October to February.

Image Caption: A male Gambel’s Quail in Tucson, Arizona, USA. Credit: Searchnet Media / Wikipedia (CC Attribution 2.0)