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California quail
California quail.jpg
Adult male California quail in Point Reyes, CA (Round)
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Genus:
Callipepla
Species:
californica
C. californica distribution.JPG
Range of C. californica

The California quail (Callipepla californica), also known as the California valley quail or valley quail, is a small ground-dwelling bird in the New World quail family. These birds have a curving crest or plume, made of six feathers, that droops forward: black in males and brown in females; the flanks are brown with white streaks. Males have a dark brown cap and a black face with a brown back, a grey-blue chest and a light brown belly. Females and immature birds are mainly grey-brown with a light-colored belly. Their closest relative is Gambel's quail which has a more southerly distribution and, a longer crest at 2.5 in (6.4 cm), a brighter head and a scalier appearance. The two species separated about 1–2 million years ago, during the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene. It is the state bird of California.

Taxonomy

Subspecies

There are seven recognized subspecies:

  • C. c. achrustera (Peters, 1923) – San Lucas California quail – southern Baja California
  • C. c. brunnescens (Ridgway, 1884) – extreme northern coastal California to southern Santa Cruz County
  • C. c. californica (Shaw, 1798) – northern Oregon and western Nevada to southern California and Coronado Islands
  • C. c. canfieldae (Van Rossem, 1939) – Owen Valley quailOwens Valley of east central California
  • C. c. catalinensis (Grinnell, 1906) – Santa Catalina quailSanta Catalina Island (off southern California)
  • C. c. orecta (Oberholser, 1932) – Warner Valley quail – Warner Valley in Oregon to extreme northern California
  • C. c. plumbea (Grinnell, 1926) – San Quintin California quailSan Diego County to southern Baja California

Behavior

The California quail is a highly sociable bird that often gathers in small flocks known as "coveys". One of their daily communal activities is a dust bath. A group of quail will select an area where the ground has been newly turned or is soft, and using their underbellies, will burrow downward into the soil some one to two inches. They then wriggle about in the indentations they have created, flapping their wings and ruffling their feathers, causing dust to rise in the air. They seem to prefer sunny places in which to create these dust baths. An ornithologist is able to detect the presence of quail in an area by spotting the circular indentations left behind in the soft dirt, some 7–15 cm (2.8–5.9 in) in diameter.

They are year-round residents. Although this bird coexists well at the edges of urban areas, it is declining in some areas as human populations increase. They were originally found mainly in the southwestern United States but they have been introduced into other areas including British Columbia, Hawaii, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, South Africa, New Zealand, and to Norfolk Island and King Island in Australia. These birds forage on the ground, often scratching at the soil. They can sometimes be seen feeding at the sides of roads. Their diet consists mainly of seeds and leaves, but they also eat some berries and insects; for example, Toyon berries are a common food source. If startled, these birds explode into short rapid flight, called "flushing". Given a choice, they will normally escape on foot.

Breeding

Colin de Californie MHNT
A California quail egg in the collection of Jacques Perrin de Brichambaut
Quail chick 02
A chick in Wellington, New Zealand (introduced species)

Their breeding habitat is shrubby areas and open woodlands in western North America. The nest is a shallow scrape lined with vegetation on the ground beneath a shrub or other cover. The female usually lays approximately 12 eggs. Once hatched, the young associate with both adults. Often, families group together, into multifamily "communal broods" which include at least two females, multiple males and many offspring. Males associated with families are not always the genetic fathers. In good years, females will lay more than one clutch, leaving the hatched young with the associated male and laying a new clutch, often with a different associated male.

They have a variety of vocalizations including the social "chicago" call, contact "pips" and warning "pips". During the breeding season, males utter the agonistic "squill" and will often interrupt their social mate's "chicago" call with a "squill," a possible form of antiphonal calling.

State bird

The California quail is the state bird of California. It was established as the state bird in 1932.

The quail population has fluctuated significantly throughout California. Once plentiful in San Francisco, by 2017 only one California quail remained in the city. Local birders named the male bird Ishi after the last known member of California's Native American Yahi tribe.

Feeding

The California quail eats insects, especially in summer, as well as plants. Unlike many other bird species, they require a high protein diet.

California quail and Mosquito-Borne encephalitis Viruses in California

The California quail is easily infected with western equine encephalomyelitis virus (WEEV). In California, the virus' appearance and quail infection coincided perfectly with the appearance of chicks in nature. In turn, this led researchers to hypothesize that large coveys containing these non-immune birds could be responsible for amplifying the virus in rural settings. However, experimental studies concluded that only immature birds were competent hosts for WEEV, which were able to produce viruses potent enough to infect Culex tarsalis mosquitos. Due to the abundance of the California quail, these birds may be the reason why WNV epidemics seem to occur significantly more frequently in urban and periurban areas than in rural landscapes.

Gallery

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