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What is a Gambel's Quail?

By S. Ashraf
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A Gambel’s quail, or Callipepla gambelii, is a small, land-dwelling bird native to the United States. When fully grown, these birds are about 10.0-11.5 inches (25-29 cm) in length, weigh about 5.6-7.1 ounces (160-200 g) and have a wingspan of approximately 14-16 inches (35-40 cm). Males and females of the species differ in appearance. Both sexes are mostly gray in plumage, but the males have black faces with white stripes and a copper-red topknot. Interestingly, the colors of the birds are more vivid and darker in areas that have more rainfall.

Geographically, the Gambel’s quail lives almost exclusively in the desert areas of the southwestern United States at elevations below 5,500 feet (1,676 m). This species of quail is mainly found in Arizona, but it is also seen as far west as California and as far east as Texas. Some also live in the southern parts of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Although the Gambel's quail is a desert bird, a few of them were introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s, and some might still be seen there.

For habitat, the Gambel’s quail prefers hot deserts that have an abundance of thorny, brushy vegetation. Dense vegetation is preferred because it provides shade and conceals the birds from predators. In addition, they use the vegetation to roost in at night, which is a behavior not usually associated with desert quail. The Gambel’s quail especially likes to be near mesquite springs, in the mountain foothills of deserts and on plains that have a variety of vegetation. This species of quail does not migrate, and scientists estimate that its yearly movements total about 1.2 miles (about 2 km).

The diet of the Gambel’s quail is made up mostly of the seeds and leaves of plants. Occasionally, depending on the time of the year, berries and fruits from cactus might be eaten. When nesting is taking place, a few insects might also be eaten. These birds are ground feeders and rarely fly except when frightened.

Breeding season is in the spring. Gambel’s quail are monogamous and, after they pair off, they can be aggressive toward other mating pairs. Males offer females bits of food to attract them. Researchers have found that females base their selection of a mate on these food offerings.

Female Gambel’s quail choose where the nest will be built and construct it from plant materials and feathers. About 10-15 eggs are laid, with incubation taking 21-24 days. All of the eggs hatch on the same day, and the chicks are able to leave the nest within hours.

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