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Mountain Quails: Everything You Need to Know

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Mountain Quails: Everything You Need to Know

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Do you love spending time outdoors and marveling at the beauty of nature?

Well then, you probably already know that fascinating creatures are lurking around every corner, waiting for you to find them!

Today, we’ll introduce you to one of the most charismatic and colorful birds that inhabit the mountains in the Western United States—the majestic Mountain Quail.

These birds are a sight to behold, with their striking plumage, unique calls, and intriguing social behavior.

But can you raise them in captivity? How can you find them if you’re out and about in the forest?

Let’s take a closer look and discover everything there is to know about the Mountain Quail.

Mountain Quail: What Does It Look Like?

First things first, let’s talk about the size and shape of a Mountain Quail.

They’re relatively small birds with small wingspans. Their wings are short and rounded, while their legs are long and featherless.

But what really sets them apart is their top knot.

Both males and females have this feature, but the female is shorter in length.

The colors of the top knot change with the season and are also dependent on the geographic location of the population.

Now let’s dive into the colors and patterns of a Mountain Quail.

Their faces are brown, and their breasts are gray. Their back and primaries are brown, while the underside is heavily white-barred.

The females have more brown coloring on their dorsal side and a paler red on their undersides.

They also have wider white barring on their flanks compared to males.

As they age, they lose the multi-color primary coverts on their wings and will only have solid-colored ones by 15 months old.

Mountain Quail Subspecies

Mountain quails have five recognized subspecies, each with slight differences in appearance.

The nominate subspecies, O. p. pictus, is found in the Cascade Range of Washington down to the coastal mountains of central California.

O. p. plumifer is found in southern Washington to western Nevada and central California.

O. p. russelli, also known as the pallid Mountain Quail, is found in the Little San Bernardino Mountains of southern California.

It can be found in the Sierra Nevada of southern California to northern Baja and extreme southwestern Nevada.

Finally, O. p. confinis, or the southern Mountain Quail, is found in the mountains of northern Baja California.

Now that you know what a Mountain Quail looks like, keep your eyes peeled on your next hike.

Their unique appearance and colors make them stand out among other birds.

You may even be able to spot different subspecies depending on where you’re hiking.

mountain quail in the wild
Photo Credit: Project Upland

Behavioral Characteristics of Mountain Quail

Let’s start with the males: during springtime, they sing a unique song, commonly known as “crow,” to advertise their presence to females and warn other males.

When you’re out on treks in the wilderness, try and listen closely for the distinctive sound of the males’ crow.

These birds are quite vocal and use their songs as a means of communication.

Mountain Quails primarily move about by walking and can walk surprisingly fast through dense shrubs and undergrowth.

This is one reason why they mostly avoid using their wings!

You may only see these adorable birds move quickly to get out of harm’s way.

However, these birds are more likely to prefer walking through dense shrubby areas and pecking at seeds, vegetation, and insects.

You will generally find these birds in family groups, which include pairs and their young, gathered around in dense shrubs, quietly searching for food.

As fall and winter approach, the adults and immature juveniles come together to form family groups of up to 20 birds.

Walking through dense shrubs, these family groups forage together.

You might spot them near road edges, feeding on grit.

Their unique and distinct family bond makes them easy to spot; these beautiful birds are hard to miss.

These congregations make for an unforgettable sight when heading out on a trek or a nature walk!

mealworms

What Do Mountain Quail Eat?

The Mountain Quail’s diet varies according to the season, and they eat a diverse range of foods throughout the year.

During the summer, they primarily feed on insects and larvae, while in the fall, they consume mainly seeds, berries, grasses, and nuts.

They also feed on fresh green leaves, fruit, and berries.

The highest percentage of their diet comprises seeds, bulbs, and acorns, which make up around 40% to 50% of their food intake.

This type of diet initiates in autumn and continues through the winter seasons.

During spring, their nutrition includes fair amounts of green leaves, flowers, and berries.

Believe it or not, Mountain Quails are also known to include insects and fungi in their diet.

They mainly feed on insects such as beetles, crickets, and caterpillars.

The Mountain Quail has a broad dietary range and is capable of consuming almost anything they find.

They frequently feed on different fruits, such as elderberries, native blackberries, and wild raspberries.

Where Do Mountain Quail Live?

Mountain Quails can be found in the arid regions of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and California

. In these areas, they thrive in desert scrub with heavy ground cover.

This habitat is characterized by dry soil, rocky terrain, and lots of shrubs and bushes.

The Mountain Quail loves to forage for food in these areas, which consists of seeds, insects, and other small animals.

The Mountain Quail is also partial to chaparral areas, which are shrublands characterized by drought-resistant plants such as manzanita and chamise.

The chaparral provides the perfect hiding place for the Mountain Quail, which needs thick undergrowth to protect them from predators and harsh weather conditions.

These areas are also often found in areas with water sources, making them an ideal habitat for the Mountain Quail.

Elevations and Subspecies

Mountain Quails can survive in elevations ranging from 2,000 feet to over 10,000 feet.

However, the specific habitats where Mountain Quails can be found vary depending on the subspecies.

For example, the California Mountain Quail can be found in mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada, while the Plumed Mountain Quail prefers the lower-elevation grasslands of Northern Mexico.

What’s the Difference Between California Quail and Mountain Quail?

california quail

Both species are popular game birds and are integral species in California.

The California Quail is the most common and well-known quail among the two.

They’re plump little birds with blue-grey plumage on their head and a distinctive teardrop-shaped black plume on their bellies.

They have a small beak, and their feathers have white stripes on their wings and a curved black line on the front of their neck.

They’re found mostly in shrublands and scrub-covered areas, and they love to feed on seeds and insects.

They also gather in groups known as coveys, which can have up to 100 individuals.

Mountain Quail, on the other hand, is a larger and more sedentary type of quail, with brown, grey, and white plumage.

Their feathers have a scaly appearance and a distinct crest on their heads.

They have rounder bodies and shorter tail feathers than California Quail.

They’re mostly found in mountainous regions, coniferous forests, and chaparral.

They feed on insects, acorns, seeds, and berries and can be seen scratching the ground for food.

Unlike their counterparts, they’re not social birds and prefer to live in pairs or small family groups rather than large coveys.

Fun Facts About Mountain Quail

As if there wasn’t enough to love about the Mountain Quail, here are a few more fun facts.

First, did you know that the Mountain Quail is the largest quail species in the United States?

These birds can grow up to 10-12 inches in length, with a wingspan of around 14-16 inches.

It’s also important to note that the Mountain Quail is not your typical bird when it comes to nesting.

They use shallow scrapes in the ground rather than building a nest in trees or bushes.

They are also known for using communal nesting sites, where multiple birds lay their eggs in the same spot and share the incubation duties.

This unique fact makes the Mountain Quail stand out even more.

How Do Mountain Quails Breed?

Mountain quail are a monogamous species, meaning they mate with only one partner for the breeding season.

During this time, males will call out to defend their territory and attract a mate.

Once a couple has formed, the female typically lays about 9-10 eggs in a simple scrape in the ground, often near water and concealed by vegetation.

The incubation period lasts from 21-25 days, with the female usually taking on the task of incubating the eggs.

However, recent research from the University of Nevada suggests that males have successfully incubated chicks on their own.

This allowed for the possibility of two broods in one breeding season if the female lays a second clutch of eggs.

Once the chicks hatch, they are precocial and will leave the nest within hours of being born.

The parents will tend to them and lead them to food, but the young will feed themselves.

Both parents are actively involved in protecting their young and will put on elaborate displays to lure predators away.

mountain quail up close
Photo Credit: Gun Dog Magazine

Can You Raise Mountain Quail in Captivity?

While it’s possible to acquire a pair of Mountain Quail, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll breed or lay eggs.

In fact, only a few hens will lay eggs in the first year, and many pairs won’t be compatible enough to mate.

The best way to ensure that true pairs are established is to put eight to ten birds in a large pen and let them choose their own mates.

You can keep a record of the pairs by color-coding their bands.

Once the pairs are established, you can put them in individual pens that are around four feet wide and eight feet long.

But breeding is just the beginning. The biggest challenge when it comes to raising Mountain Quail in captivity is the high mortality rate.

In fact, an alarming 75% of captive quail die within the first six months to a year.

The main reason for this is the birds’ susceptibility to worm parasites and their tendency to develop moldy stomachs.

To combat this, you’ll need to keep your quail off the ground and in wire-bottomed cages.

This will greatly reduce the risk of the birds picking up worm parasites from insects and other sources.

Feeding Mountain Quails

Feeding is another essential aspect of raising healthy Mountain Quail.

Moldy food can lead to moldy stomachs, and bad food can cause the gizzard to form ulcers.

To avoid these issues, make sure you feed your quail high-quality, clean food.

You can feed them a mix of seeds, grains, and insects, like mealworms and crickets.

You can also buy specialized quail feed that will provide them with all the nutrients they need.

In addition to proper breeding, housing, and feeding practices, it’s important to keep your quail stress-free.

These birds are sensitive to noise, sudden movements, and other disturbances.

So make sure you keep them in a quiet and calm environment, away from loud noises and other pets.

You can also provide them with plenty of hiding spots, perches, and other things to help them feel safe and comfortable.

What Do Mountain Quail Eggs Look Like?

The first thing you might notice about Mountain Quail eggs is how many there are.

These birds lay relatively large clutches, ranging from 6 to 15 eggs, with an average of 9-10.

The eggs themselves are creamy white to pale buff in color, with small brown speckles scattered across the shell.

The speckles are often concentrated on the larger end of the egg, which is where the air cell is located.

Incubation of Mountain Quail eggs is apparently done by both sexes, although the female may take on more of the responsibility.

It takes about 24 days for the eggs to hatch, during which time the parents will take turns sitting on the nest to keep the eggs warm.

Once the chicks hatch, they are downy and can leave the nest shortly after birth.

Both parents are highly active in caring for the young, leading them to food sources and protecting them from predators.

RELATED READ: The Benefits of Quail Eggs

How to Find Mountain Quail in the Wilderness

Mountain quail are, as their name suggests, found in mountainous regions throughout North America.

They prefer coniferous forests and brush-covered ridges with plenty of cover.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its high concentration of Mountain Quail, but you can find them in various regions across the country.

Before you head out, make sure you research the ideal locations for Mountain Quail in your area.

Mountain quail tend to be most active during cool, misty mornings, so planning your hunt for these conditions can increase your chances of successful spotting.

You’ll also want to consider the time of year, as Mountain Quails tend to be most visible during the breeding season in late spring and early summer.

Mountain quail are loud birds, meaning they can be heard before they’re seen.

Listening for their distinct calls, which are a high-pitched series of whistles, is key to getting close to these birds.

You can improve your odds by getting familiar with their calls before you head into the wilderness.

RELATED READ: Where to Buy Quail and What To Look For: A Guide for Beginners

Mountain Quails: Final Thoughts

Mountain Quails are fascinating birds that can captivate anyone with their round, adorable appearance, melodic calls, and group behavior.

Visiting their habitats isn’t just an opportunity to see unique bird species; it’s also an opportunity to enjoy breathtaking natural landscapes.

Whether you’re an experienced birdwatcher or someone who enjoys nature walks, these creatures won’t disappoint you.

So, the next time you’re hiking through the mountains of California or nearby areas, keep your ears and eyes peeled for the charming Mountain Quails—and perhaps consider raising some yourself!

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