At a Glance
In foothills and mountains of the far west, coveys of these striking birds scurry through the manzanita thickets. Mountain Quail are often overlooked, because they keep to dense cover; when approached, they often sit motionless in the brush, where they are very difficult to spot. They become more conspicuous in spring, when the rich callnotes of the males, given at long intervals, echo across the slopes.
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
Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Flushes, Running
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Unlike other North American quail, may regularly migrate in some areas, but only short distances. Migrates on foot, moving to lower elevations for winter.
11" (28 cm). Two long thin plumes on head (often combining into one) stand straight up. Blue-gray head and chest, chestnut face, broad white bars on chestnut sides.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Fingered, Rounded, Short
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Its frequent call is a loud echoing kyork or woook. Other notes include soft whistles.
Dense brush in wooded foothills and mountains. Most common in pine-oak woodland, coniferous forest, and chaparral; sometimes in pinyon-juniper woods or in scrub at lower elevations. May be common in areas of second-growth brush after fires or clearcuts. Requires dense low thickets for cover. During hot weather, rarely found more than a mile from water.
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9-10, sometimes 6-15. Creamy white to pale buff. Incubation is apparently by both sexes (female may do more), about 24 days. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching; are tended by both parents and led to food, but young feed themselves. Parents are very active in defense of young, putting on distraction displays to lure away predators. Development of young and age at first flight not well known. Usually one brood per year, sometimes two at low elevations or in very good conditions.
Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching; are tended by both parents and led to food, but young feed themselves. Parents are very active in defense of young, putting on distraction displays to lure away predators. Development of young and age at first flight not well known. Usually one brood per year, sometimes two at low elevations or in very good conditions.
Has a wide variety of foraging techniques. Picks up items from ground, often scratching among leaf litter; uses feet to dig for bulbs; climbs in shrubs and trees to pick berries, leaves; jumps up from ground to reach seeds and berries in low plants.
Includes seeds, bulbs, leaves, berries, insects. Diet varies with season. Eats large amounts of seeds, bulbs, acorns; fair amounts of green leaves, flowers, berries; also some insects, fungi.
Males call in breeding season to defend territory. In courtship, male faces female, fluffs feathers, droops wings. Nest site is on ground in dense cover, usually sheltered by a shrub, log, or grass clump. Nest is a shallow depression, lined with grass, pine needles, leaves, feathers.
Still reasonably common in highlands over most of its range. May have disappeared from northern limits in southwestern British Columbia (but possibly was introduced there, not native).
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Mountain Quail. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Mountain 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.