Friday, April 24, 2009

In the countryside... California Quail

California QuailCalifornia Quail, Shevlin Park, Bend, Oregon on 13 June 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Originally, the California Quail was, indeed, restricted primarily to California, with birds spilling over into all of Baja California, southwestern Oregon, and western Nevada. In the mid 1800's sportsmen began introducing these quail widely into western Oregon and Washington. Today they are common from southern British Columbia, south through all of Washington and Oregon, eastern Idaho, northern Nevada, and locally in Utah, as well as in the traditional range in California and Baja.

California Quail are instantly recognizable with their scaled bellies, white-bordered black face, and drooping top-knot. In the southwest deserts live the similar Gambel's Quail. But in the Pacific Northwest the look-a-like bird is the Mountain Quail. These birds have chestnut and white barred sides and long straight head plumes. The usually secretive Mountain Quail are usually found in forest clearings in the hills, not in agricultural areas.

In fact, California Quail are found in a wide variety of habitats, often near water. They like agricultural lands, brushy woodlands, lower clear cuts and forest edges, rimrock and sage lands, chaparral, and even some suburbs with brushy cover and open feeding areas. They are found in most open areas of the Pacific Northwest, but are not found in the high mountains or deep forest. They are generally rare in the Coast Range and along the coast north of southern Oregon.

Scurrying around the brush in coveys of family groups, they can be quite secretive. When pressed, or surprised, they burst into flight, the wings making a loud whirring sound while they utter cackling notes. Often a single male will act as sentinel as the rest of the covey feeds (as the bird photographed above).

In spring the coveys break up and birds pair off. It is during this time the males crow their familiar chi-ca-go song.