A Covey of Quail


California Quail Male, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boise, Idaho

California Quail Male, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boise, Idaho

California Quail – the state bird of its namesake – are the most common quail of the American West. From Western Utah to the Pacific, outside of mountainous terrain, you can hear the silly, nasal “put way do” calls and see them scurry along the ground. While they lost a lot of range to agriculture, especially in California, they seem to have adapted to the suburbs in recent decades. They are on WC’s yard list, the list of bird species seen in our yard in Boise. They have been introduced around the world and, in fact, may have been introduced and not native in Utah and Idaho.

California Quail, Boise Foothills, Winter 2017

California Quail, Boise Foothills, Winter 2017

California Quail are somewhat unique in that they use pretty much every mating strategy, from social monogamy to sequential polygamy to simultaneous polyandry. And they use pretty much every chick-raising strategy. Like almost all ground birds, the chicks are quickly mobile. The term is “precocial.” There is no extended nest-bound period. Once the young are all hatched, the birds associate in a variety of family groups from single females (and occasionally males) with the precocial young through large amalgamated broods of dozens of birds bred by multiple adults.

Similarly, California Quail have a generalist diet, including fruits, seeds, leaves and flowers from grasses, herbs, shrubs and trees. They also consume berries, sporangia, waste and non waste grain, catkins, plant galls and insects.

The combination of multiple mating, rearing and foraging flexibility has made the California Quail successful. There aren’t many species that live successfully across areas with annual precipitation ranging from less than 12.7 cm in Boyd Canyon, Arizona to more than 254 cm in Collingwood, South I., New Zealand.

Yes, this is a somewhat silly-looking species, with that absurd black plume top knot. But it’s hard to argue with success, and California Quail as a species are quite successful.

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