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Photo by Tom Grey

Bird of the Month: California Quail

Become a bird expert! Every month we feature a different bird species of the San Francisco Bay Area. You can learn how to identify local birds and find out fun facts about our amazing feathered friends. Click on the pictures at the bottom of the page to learn about birds from previous months, and check back each month to see the latest species of interest!

Name: California Quail

Size: 9-11 inches

Wingspan: 13-15 inches

Diet: The California Quail eats seeds, leaves, flowers, and insects.

Behavior: This bird feeds by scratching the ground for seeds. It usually feeds in small flocks called coveys.

Habitat: This quail lives in scrubby areas such as chaparral, sagebrush, and foothill woodlands habitats in California, Oregon, and Washington. In the South Bay, California Quail can be seen at McClellan Ranch Park in Cupertino.

Field Markings: Look for a medium-sized plump bird with topknot and a belly scaled in bluff and black. Male quails have a black face outlined by white chinstrap and blue-grey breast, with a comma-shaped topknot of black plumes. Females are duller and browner in coloring.

Fun Facts: The California Quail's topknot is made up of a cluster of 6 feathers.

Protozoans, a type of single-celled organism, in their intestines help the California Quail digest vegetation. Chicks acquire the protozoans by pecking at adults’ feces.

Status: The California Quail population is strong, but may be threatened by habitat degradation and loss due to commercial large-scale farming.

Migratory Route: The California Quail is resident year-round on the west coast, and does not migrate

Credits: Calkins, J.D., J.C. Hagelin, and D.F. Lott. 1999. California Quail (Callipepla californica). In Birds of North American, No. 473 (A. Pool and F. Gill, eds). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphica, PA.

Field Guide to the Birds of North America. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

All About Birds Online Bird Guide. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. April 16, 2006