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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Montezuma Quail

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Montezuma 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.

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