Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) are shy and secretive birds that usually prefer running to flying. They are found in the Desert Southwest, most commonly in southern Arizona and New Mexico in elevations below 5,500 feet, including the Sonoran, Mohave, and Chihuahuan Deserts. Gambel’s Quail are usually spotted running between cover or posting a lookout atop low shrubs and bushes, usually in habitats that contain mesquite thickets along river valleys and arroyos, shrublands and cactus, dry grasslands, and even in agricultural fields.
They are plump birds with short necks, small bills, square tails, and short, broad wings. Both sexes are fitted with a comma-shaped plume (topknot) of feathers on their head, larger and fuller in males. Gambel’s Quails are camouflaged in colors and patterns of gray, chestnut, and cream. Males are distinguished from females by a bright rufous crest, chestnut flanks with white streaking, and creamy belly with a black patch. Females are grayer without the distinctive head pattern.
These ground-dwelling birds live in groups called coveys that can include a dozen or more individuals. Their diet consists of grasses, seeds, and cactus fruit which they scratch for under shrubs and cacti.
- Length: both sexes 9-11 inches
- Size description: larger than Northern Bobwhite but slightly smaller than a Chukar or Gray Partridge
- Wingspan: 13.4-14.3 inches
- Weight: 5.6-7.1 ounces
- Habitat: areas of brushy and thorny desert vegetation
- Diet: ground forager; seeds, leaves, fruits, and a few insects
- Breeding: reproduces best in years with adequate rainfall; ground nesting; eggs are white with brown splotches; chicks are downy and precocial.
- Prefer to run rather than fly but do make short flights
- Calls: ga way gaga, ga way gaga and spitting call pit, pit, pit
References & Resources
Stokes, Donald W., Lillian Q. Stokes, and Paul E. Lehman. “Quail.” The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2010. 70. Print.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Gambel’s Quail