The California quail is a short, stocky bird. Males have blue-grey feathers on their breast with pale cream feathers on the underside with black scalloping underneath. Running down the sides are streaks of cream feathers across the brown back feathers.
On their head males have black feathers with a white stripe running under the chin and across the eyebrows. They have a short grey beak. One of the most noticeable features is a black plume of feathers raising from the top of the head and curving over slightly.
Female California quails are slightly smaller than the males and duller in color with more brown feathers.
Both genders have white speckles on the nape of the neck.
At the base of the body is a relatively long tail and the feathers are rounded. They have sturdy, black legs.
An average California quail will measure up to 25cm (9.8in) long and weigh between 151 and 190g (5-7oz).
The California quail is an omnivore. Their diet includes seeds, bulbs, berries, flowers, leaves and buds. A range of small insects are also eaten.
Digestion of the vegetation they eat is aided by protozoans in the stomach. These are acquired by the young by pecking the feces of adults.
Due to the arid environments they live in they have the ability to go long periods without water. Most of their water needs can be obtained from their food.
North America is the native home of the California quail. Here they can be found in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
A number of introduced populations include Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the U.S Virgin Islands.
They make their home in forests, shrublands, grasslands and deserts. In rural areas they may be found in gardens and in some cities they can be found in parks.
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Mating typically occurs between May and July. Pairs will form and remain together to raise the chicks. They call to one another in a pattern of orchestrated calls.
Prior to mating males will perform courtship displays to win mating rights. Their displays may include head dips, puffing up their feathers and spreading their tail feathers.
Egg laying occur from May to June. If females are not successful during their first egg laying attempt they will lay again.
The eggs are laid in a nest which is a shallow scrape in the soil that is lined with grass. Their clutch is quite large including 6 to 28 eggs. Each egg is a pointed shape and colored white with light gold spots.
Females will incubate the egg with the father remaining nearby to tend to her.
The eggs will be incubated for between 22 and 23 days. Within an hour of hatching the chicks will be up and running around.
At hatching the chicks have a striped body with a yellow colored head and a light colored beak. They can first fly when they are about a quarter of their adult size.
Females may join together and raise their broods as a group. The females will raise their young together providing additional protection and increasing survival rates.
Quails live in groups known as a covey. These groups typically include between 10 and 100 birds though some have been reported with as many as 400.
Their call sounds like they are saying 'chi-ca-go'.
Most of their time is spent on the ground where they will forage for food. Feeding mostly occurs in the early morning or late afternoon. If they are scared they will dash to cover.
Predators and Threats
When threatened by a predator they will burst in to flight to get away.
Humans target the California quail both for food and sport. They are also kept as pets.
One benefit they receive from humans is that they will eat acorns which have been cracked open by cars.
The California quail is the state bird of California.
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Public Domain. USFWS.
Price, Z. 2000. "Callipepla californica" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 16, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Callipepla_californica/
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Leary, S. 2013 [updated 2016]. California quail. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
Audubon. 2020. California Quail. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/california-quail> [Accessed 17 October 2020].
Kids.nationalgeographic.com. 2020. California Quail. [online] Available at: <https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/california-quail/> [Accessed 17 October 2020].
BirdLife International. 2018. Callipepla californica. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22679603A131906420. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22679603A131906420.en.
Downloaded on 16 October 2020.
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