Do you know the state bird of California? It is the California quail!
Their most striking feature is the curving, black topknot on their head. This topknot that looks like a single feather is really six overlapping feathers. The male’s topknot is larger than the female’s.
These are plump game birds with a short neck, small head and bill and short but broad wings. Adult males have a black face with bold white face markings. Both sexes have white, creamy and chestnut feathers that look like scales on the underside. The youngsters look like the females but have a shorter topknot.
These are ground birds. They can fly, but usually only to get to cover and away from danger. Time on the ground is spent strutting and scratching looking for food. They eat mostly seeds, but also eat leaves, flowers, grain, manzanita and poison oak berries, acorns, caterpillars, beetles, mites, millipedes and snails. Protozoans in their intestines help to digest vegetation. The young chicks acquire these protozoans by pecking at the feces of adults. They have adapted well to living in an arid environment and rarely need to drink water. Instead, they get their moisture from succulent plants and insects.
California quail nest on the ground. They make a shallow depression and line it with grasses and stems. It is carefully placed at the base of plants or near rocks to hide it from predators. Multiple females may lay eggs in the same nest with a single nest containing 28 eggs! All parents will care for the young from this communal nest.
Only the female incubates the eggs for about three weeks. A day after hatching, the young are ready to scurry after parents. The young are “precocial” meaning they are ambulatory and able to feed themselves soon after hatching.
Quails form groups called “coveys” numbering as many as 75 to 100 birds. They spend their nights roosting in trees and during the day forage on the ground for food. They spend a good part of the day in shrubs enjoying the shade and protection from predators.
Though they are “California” Quail, they are also found in Oregon, Washington, and Baja California. They have also been introduced in New Zealand; Kilauea, Hawaii and in the Monte Desert of Argentina.
The oldest known quail was 6 years, 11 months old.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.