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.
Category
New World Quail, Upland Ground Birds
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Region
California, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Western Canada
Behavior
Flap/Glide, Flushes, Running
Population
260.000

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.

Description

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.
Size
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Color
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Fingered, Rounded, Short
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Its frequent call is a loud echoing kyork or woook. Other notes include soft whistles.
Call Pattern
Falling
Call Type
Scream

Habitat

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.

Behavior

Eggs

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.

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.

Feeding Behavior

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.

Diet

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.

Nesting

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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

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).

Climate Map

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.

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