Home & Garden: Gambel’s Quail often seen running between shrubs in Mesa County’s desert | PostIndependent.com

Home & Garden: Gambel’s Quail often seen running between shrubs in Mesa County’s desert

Larry Collins
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist
Gambel's Quail with reflection
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

When leaving my subdivision recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Gambel’s Quail. While this is probably a regular occurrence for a lot of you, it is not for me. I live in a subdivision close to town. Between that and my man-eating (OK, man-licking) Golden Retriever, there are not a lot of quail to be seen.

A bird of the Desert Southwest, Gambel’s Quail are common in much of the region, particularly southern Arizona and New Mexico. They also appear to be abundant in western Colorado and eastern Utah. Here they look and act very much like the more widespread California Quail, but the two species’ ranges do not overlap. Look for these tubby birds running between cover in suburbs and open desert or posting a lookout on low shrubs.

Like other quail, Gambel’s Quail are plump, volleyball-sized birds with short necks, small bills, and square tails. The wings are short and broad. Both sexes have a comma-shaped topknot of feathers atop their small heads, fuller in males than females.

Quail are richly patterned in gray, chestnut, and cream colors that can serve as excellent camouflage. Males have a bright rufous (reddish-brown) crest, chestnut flanks striped with white, and creamy belly with black patch. Females are grayer, lacking the strong head pattern. Neither sex is as strongly scaled (the color of the breast feathers resembling fish scales) as the California Quail.

Gambel’s Quails walk or run along the ground in groups called coveys that can include a dozen or more birds. They will lay between nine and 14 buff colored eggs with dark marks. When little, young quail look like cotton-balls with legs. In general, quail can fly well but prefer walking. Their flight is explosive, powerful, and short.

They scratch for food under shrubs and cactuses, eating grasses and cactus fruits. If you are feeding them, quail prefer to eat mixed seed, millet, and cracked corn. You may very well see the male quail on a fence post or telephone pole keeping a lookout for predators while the female and young are eating.

The quails’ primarily habitat is below about 5,500 feet in elevation. They like to frequent mesquite thickets along river valleys and arroyos, shrublands and cactus, dry grasslands, and agricultural fields. The Gambel’s Quail are here year around but may move to areas of better shelter and food sources during the winter.

Thank you to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the information used in part of this article.

Local bird expert and GJ Free Press columnist Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard bird-feeding experience possible. Email your bird-feeding and birding questions to lcollins1@bresnan.net.

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