Gambel's Quail

Gambel's Quail

Desert quail, Arizona quail

Callipepla gambelii
Population size
Life Span
1.5-2 yrs
64 km/h
150-200 g
28 cm
36-41 cm

This bird has round chunky body and is easily recognizable due to the plume on its head. Plume of males is dark and thick. Also, males possess black patch on their breast as well as black neck and face. Plume of females, however, is duller and thinner. In addition, unlike males, female quails do not have black markings on their breast. The plumage or mature males is more vivid than that of females. The Gambel's quail has white and cream-colored markings throughout the body. The wings are olive-colored and the sides are chestnut. Various populations of this species may differ in plumage coloration. Thus, quail, living in more rainy areas, are somehow darker, having more striking plumage.


The Gambel's quail is distributed throughout the southwestern United States, primarily in Arizona. This bird is also found in Texas, California as well as southern Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. The area of its distribution includes also some parts of Mexico. Their major habitat is brushy riparian woodland and arid desert scrub. The Gambel’s quail inhabits a wide variety of deserts such as low warm deserts with mesquite, upland warm deserts with Acacia, yuccas, and cactus as well as cool deserts with sagebrush.

Gambel's Quail habitat map



Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Gambel’s quail are diurnal animals. On the sunset, they find a suitable place to roost in groups. They prefer safe areas with dense cover such as shrubs or trees in order to protect themselves against predators and cold winds. These birds are social with a unique social system. They mate during the spring months meanwhile being aggressive towards other couples. By the end of the breeding season, they regroup, forming coveys - flocks that may contain up to 25 individuals depending on climatic conditions. During the time of living in coveys, they become very calm, showing highly social behavior and foraging together for food.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Gambel’s quail are herbivores (granivores). They feed primarily upon the Saguaro cactus, an important source of food and water for these birds. Gambel’s quail also consume fruit, flowers, and seeds of various plants.

Mating Habits

April- July
20-24 days
12 eggs

These birds are monogamous, mating once in a breeding season, though there have been known cases of a female, leaving its mate and chicks for another male. During the breeding season, which lasts from April to July, male quails try to attract females, using various methods. Female has to build the nest, which is a simple spot on the ground, usually covered by rocks and plants. When the nesting site is chosen, she defines it with grass, sticks, and leaves. Then she lays 12 eggs at a brood. The eggs are incubated for 20-24 days. Young are able to move as soon as they are hatched out. The chicks learn how to forage and find food, observing their parents. Reproductive maturity is reached at 1-year-old with male quail, becoming mature a few weeks earlier than females.


Population threats

One of the notable threats to this bird is the degradation of its habitat due to urban development. On the other hand, the chicks are threatened by rising temperatures within their range, which is a result of pollution and global warming. Another threat is predators - both aerial and terrestrial. In addition, cattle grazing in the area of their habitat is among other concerns to this species’ population.

Population number

Although the exact number of their population is presently unknown, this widespread species is not endangered and is classified on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC).

Ecological niche

These birds play important role in the ecosystem. Feeding upon various plants, Gambel's quail disperse seeds of these plant species. They are also an important source of food for predators of their range.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Gambel’s quail are excellent and fast runners. These birds rarely fly, being slow in flight. For this reason, they mainly remain on the ground, running if necessary.
  • They feed in coveys, twice a day, usually in the morning and afternoon, slowly traveling around the area and looking for food.
  • This bird has almost no water requirement but will live near water if possible.
  • In the heat of the day, Gambel’s quail prefer to rest in shady areas while in cool weather, they usually feed and are more active.
  • Within a covey, mixed-parenting is commonly practiced with pairs, rearing chicks of other pairs.
  • Spending most of the year in coveys, they communicate with members of the groups through various vocalizations. The frequently heard calls include chattering, clacking, a mourning qua-el’ call, and the loud ‘chi-ca-go-go’ sound.
  • Compared to other species of similar size, this bird is highly intelligent. To mention just a few examples: it is monogamous, having a unique social system and a wide range of vocalizations as well as practicing mixed-parenting.


1. Gambel's Quail Wikipedia article -
2. Gambel's Quail on The IUCN Red List site -

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