Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

California Quail

Callipepla californica

This sharply-marked bird with the curving topknot is common along the California coast and in a few other areas of the west. It has adapted rather well to the increasing human population, and is often found around well-wooded suburbs and even large city parks. California Quail live in coveys at most seasons, and are often seen strutting across clearings, nodding their heads at each step. If disturbed, they may burst into fast low flight on whirring wings.
Conservation status Adapts fairly well to the vicinity of civilization, but declining in some regions as coastal areas become more and more built up.
Family New World Quail
Habitat Broken chaparral, woodland edges, coastal scrub, parks, farms. May be most common in open oak woodland and in streamside growth bordered by chaparral, but also found in suburbs, semi-desert situations, pinyon-juniper woods, grassland, coastal sage scrub. Where introduced farther inland, may be in other brushy habitats. Avoids mountains.
This sharply-marked bird with the curving topknot is common along the California coast and in a few other areas of the west. It has adapted rather well to the increasing human population, and is often found around well-wooded suburbs and even large city parks. California Quail live in coveys at most seasons, and are often seen strutting across clearings, nodding their heads at each step. If disturbed, they may burst into fast low flight on whirring wings.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by picking up items from ground, often scratching on ground, and picking leaves from plants. Along roads, may feed on acorns that have been cracked open by passing cars. In neighborhoods with good plant cover, comes into yards to eat grain or birdseed.


Eggs

10-16, usually 13-14. Dull white to pale buff, variably marked with brown. Two females sometimes lay eggs in same nest. Incubation is by female only, about 18-23 days. Young: Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching. Both parents tend young, with female often brooding them when small, male perching high and acting as sentinel; young feed themselves. Young can fly short distances at age of 10 days but are not full grown until later. One brood per year, two in years with good food supply.


Young

Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching. Both parents tend young, with female often brooding them when small, male perching high and acting as sentinel; young feed themselves. Young can fly short distances at age of 10 days but are not full grown until later. One brood per year, two in years with good food supply.

Diet

Mostly seeds and leaves. Feeds on a wide variety of plants, but especially annual weeds, eating the seeds, leaves, and fresh shoots. Also eats acorns, berries, flowers, bulbs, insects.


Nesting

During breeding season, males call loudly to advertise territory. In courtship, male postures with wings drooped, tail spread; bobs head, and may rush at female. Nest site is usually on ground, under a shrub or brushpile, or next to a log or other cover. Sometimes nests above ground, on broken-off branch or in old nest of another bird. Typical nest on ground (probably built by female) is a shallow depression, lined with grass and leaves.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud distinctive ka-kah-ko or Chi-ca-go, the second note highest.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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