Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The California Quail: Our State Bird

Beautifully colored, with dark, gentle eyes, the California Quail (Callipepla californica) is common across the state.  Though abundant, these shy birds tend to remain quietly hidden in the underbrush until approaching danger flushes them into the open.  A flock of quail, called a covey, can often be heard uttering soft calls to one another as they make their way through the chaparral.  Their three syllable call (often described as "Chi-ca-go") is a familiar sound throughout California and always brings a smile to my face. 

Female (left) and male California Quail, near Murphy's Ca. (Calaveras Co.)

California Quail are abundant in the foothills and oak woodlands of California, in coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats, as well as in suitably wild habitats in the Central Valley, such as along riparian corridors and in National Wildlife Refuges.  It is not uncommon to see them living in close association with people, in suburban areas with adequate cover, bordered by wilderness.  In the Sierra Nevada, they are replaced by Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) and in the deserts by Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii).    

Male California Quail, San Joaquin River NWR (Stanislaus Co.)

California Quail are hardy, adaptable birds, often obtaining all the water they require from the foods they eat; only during periods of extended heat do they seek water sources.  Quail typically stick fairly close to the ground, scratching and foraging among the leaf litter beneath shrubs for seeds, acorns and berries.  When they venture into the open, they move quickly and cautiously, remaining close to protective cover.  When startled, quail explode upwards out of the brush with a great burst, flying short distances to take refuge in low trees or shrubs.  It's not uncommon to see a large family group foraging together, sometimes consisting of more than 75 birds!  A pleasant sight in spring and early summer is a family of quail out for a stroll, young chicks eagerly following their parents in a line.

Female California Quail, Lava Beds National Monument (Siskiyou Co.)

In 1931, the California Quail (sometimes called Valley Quail) was given the distinction of becoming California's state bird by a unanimous vote. 

Quail belong to the taxonomic order Galliformes, a group of stocky, chicken-like birds that are common game and domestic birds.  In this sense, relatives of the quail include grouse, pheasants, partridge, turkeys and domestic chickens. 

Male California Quail, Pinnacles National Park (San Benito Co.)


  1. Hi.
    I like to write about the birds and plants who came with the miners from the California gold rush to the New Zealand goldrush.

    1. That's fascinating! I had no idea there are California Quail in New Zealand. Thanks for sharing!