Bird Break: California Quail Behavior


Despite the unfavorable conditions, WC and Mrs. WC did some birding south and west of Boise this past weekend. We found several flocks – called “coveys” – of California Quail among the 38 or so species we saw.

California Quail are an iconic west coast bird species. With their top knot plumes, constant chatter and tendency to assemble in coveys they are common and distinctive from Canada to Baja. They also adapt well to suburban environments, so long as there is still forage and cover. They are ubiquitous in the Boise area.

California Quail, Fort Boise NWR

California Quail, Fort Boise NWR

While there’s not a lot of room for brains in that tiny little head, they are clever and resourceful at foraging. The snow at Fort Boise National Wildlife Refuge was about 15 inches deep and frozen solid. Not quite enough of a lift to allow the Quail to reach the grass seeds on the tall stems.

Stretching isn't quite enough

Stretching isn’t quite enough

Even standing on his tip toes and stretching as far as he could, this male couldn’t quite reach the seeds.

The Solution: Vertical High Jump

The Solution: Vertical High Jump

The Quail solved that problem by an impressive vertical high jump. Note the wings are not used at all; this is a jump solely with the legs.

Success

Success

At the crest of his jump, our young Dick Fosbury has grabbed the grass stem in his beak, breaking it off.

The tasty reward

The tasty reward

And then enjoys the rewards of his work.

The behavior is in contrast to Ruffed Grouse, who simply bull over the grasses. It may be that the stems of these particular grasses are too thick to allow a lower energy approach. WC watched this fellow for a few minutes and every jump earned him a long stem of seeds. It suggests learned behavior may be one of the reasons why this species has adapted so well.

Another example of why WC finds birds endlessly fascinating. As well as a nice break from politics.

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