California quail are small attractive ground-dwelling birds. They 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.
California quail are year-round residents in the southwestern United States. They inhabit shrubby areas, open woodlands, grassland, desert, fields, gardens and can also be found in the edges of urban areas.
California quail are highly sociable birds that often gather 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 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in). 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. These birds prefer to gorge near sunrise and sunset. They feed on the ground, often scratching at the soil. They can sometimes be seen feeding at the sides of roads. If startled, quail explode into short rapid flight, called "flushing". Given a choice, they will normally escape on foot. California quail have a variety of vocalizations that they use to communicate with each other; these include 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.
California quail are serially monogamous; this means that their pair bonds last only during one breeding season. Their nest is a shallow scrape lined with vegetation on the ground beneath a shrub or other cover. The female usually lays approximately 12 eggs and incubates them 22-23 days. Once hatched, the chicks begin running about within an hour and associate with both adults. They are able to fly 2 weeks after hatching and become independent from their parents when they are 3-4 weeks old. 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 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.
California quail are widespread within their range and are not considered threatened. However, in some areas, these birds suffer from the use of pesticides and changes in their habitat which make them more vulnerable to predators.
According to the What Bird resource, the total population size of the California quail is around 1 million individuals. According to the All About Birds resource the total breeding population size of this species is 3.8 million breeding birds. Overall, currently, California quail are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.