At a Glance
The Sonoran desert is home to this distinctive bird. Gambel's Quail is often abundant near desert streams and waterholes, with coveys walking to the water in the morning and evening, giving a variety of clucking and crowing notes. As cities have grown in the desert southwest, these birds have adapted to life in the surrounding suburbs, coming into back yards to eat grain scattered for them. At night, coveys of Gambel's Quail roost in bushes or low trees.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
New World Quail, Upland Ground Birds
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Permanent resident throughout its range.
10-11 1/2" (25-29 cm). Curving topknot, white stripes on chestnut-red sides. Male has reddish cap, black patch in center of yellow belly. Female is redder on sides than female California Quail, with less scaly pattern on belly.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, Tan, White
Fingered, Rounded, Short
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
A ringing puk-kwaw-cah, with second syllable highest in pitch.
Brushy desert, canyons. May be in very dry country, but concentrates near sources of water. Favors typical Sonoran desert, with open ground and wide variety of shrubs, low trees, and cactus; often around mesquite thickets. Avoids unbroken grassland with no shrubs. May be common in open suburbs where some land is left undeveloped.
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10-12, sometimes more. Dull white to pale buff, rather heavily marked with brown. Two females sometimes lay eggs in one nest. Incubation is by female only, 21-24 days. Young: Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow parents. Both parents tend young and lead them to food sources, but 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.
Downy young leave nest within a day after hatching, and follow parents. Both parents tend young and lead them to food sources, but 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.
Forages in flocks from late summer to early spring. Does most feeding on ground, but readily goes up into shrubs and low trees for berries, leaves, buds.
Mostly seeds, leaves, berries. Adults apparently are mostly vegetarians at most seasons. They eat many fresh plant shoots, leaves, and buds, especially during spring. Cactus fruits and the berries of mistletoe, hackberry, and other plants are eaten when available. Seeds are important in the diet at all times. Usually few insects are eaten, although young birds may eat more.
In breeding season, male gives clear descending note from high perch. Mated pairs spend much time exploring territory, apparently prospecting for good nest sites. Nest site is usually on ground, in shade of shrub or grass clump; sometimes above ground on stump or on old nest of thrasher or roadrunner. Typical ground nest (probably built by female) is shallow depression lined with grass, leaves, twigs.
Local populations rise and fall, apparently reproducing poorly in very dry years. Overall population seems stable.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Gambel's Quail. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Gambel's Quail
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.