Photo: Nicholas Pederson/Flickr Creative Commons

Montezuma Quail

Cyrtonyx montezumae

Despite its bold and bizarre pattern, this little quail of the Mexican border regions can be remarkably hard to see. When approached, pairs or coveys of Montezuma Quail may crouch motionless until they are practically stepped upon; then they explode into flight, to whir away across the hillsides. Fall and winter coveys usually have fewer than ten birds, and they often range over a very limited area.
Conservation status Has disappeared or become scarce in parts of the southwest because of overgrazing. The same is probably happening in Mexico, but its status there is not well known.
Family New World Quail
Habitat Grassy oak canyons, wooded mountain slopes with bunchgrass. Presence tall grass and usually oaks seem to be main requirements. Found in open oak or pine-oak woodland, open grassy hills with scattered trees, sometimes in openings in coniferous forest higher in mountains. Avoids low deserts.
Despite its bold and bizarre pattern, this little quail of the Mexican border regions can be remarkably hard to see. When approached, pairs or coveys of Montezuma Quail may crouch motionless until they are practically stepped upon; then they explode into flight, to whir away across the hillsides. Fall and winter coveys usually have fewer than ten birds, and they often range over a very limited area.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • adult female
Feeding Behavior

Does much of its foraging by digging in soil with its feet to dig up bulbs, or scratching with its feet in leaf litter under the oaks to uncover insects or seeds. Forages in pairs or in family groups.


Eggs

10-12, sometimes 8-14. White, often becoming stained in nest. Has a longer incubation than most quail, 25-26 days. Incubation is probably by female only. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching, are accompanied by both parents. Adults may lead young to food, but young feed themselves. Young are capable of making short flights at about 10 days; reach adult size in about 10-11 weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching, are accompanied by both parents. Adults may lead young to food, but young feed themselves. Young are capable of making short flights at about 10 days; reach adult size in about 10-11 weeks.

Diet

Bulbs, insects, seeds. The bulbs of various plants (including wood sorrel and nut-grasses) may be a major part of the diet. Also eats many insect larvae and pupae, acorns and other nuts, various seeds, and berries and small fruits.


Nesting

In Arizona, nesting is mostly in mid to late summer, timed to the summer rains. May nest earlier in spring farther east. Male defends nesting territory with a purring trill -- soft, but audible for some distance. Nest site is on ground in tall grass. Nest (built by female, possibly with help from male) is well constructed; shallow depression lined with grass, with more grass domed over top and often hanging down over small entrance on side.

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

Migration

Generally a permanent resident, but in northern part of range may move to lower elevations in winter.

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Migration

Generally a permanent resident, but in northern part of range may move to lower elevations in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A soft whinnying call.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
New World Quail Upland Ground Birds

Montezuma Quail

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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