Gambel's Quail

Gambel's Quail

[ Callipepla gambelii ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 10 to 12 inches 
WILD DIET: leaves, shoots, fruit, insects, and berries
ZOO DIET: green leafy vegetables, game bird chow, commercial bird chow, small bird maintenance diet, cracked corn, and small mealworms
DISTRIBUTION: the deserts of the western U.S., including Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico.
HABITAT: desert thickets, cactus scrublands, streamside woodlands


Tiny but Tough

Prime plumage
Gambel's quail are attractive, plump little birds with a richly colored plumage of chestnut, gray, cream, and black. Both sexes have broad streaks of white on their flanks. The male has a black patch of belly feathers, which are lacking in the female. The distinguishing feature of both sexes is a teardrop-shaped plume of black feathers on their head.

The wild west
Gambel's quails live in the dry regions of the western U.S. and in northern Mexico. They are the most hunted game bird in Arizona, and in parts of California, Nevada, and New Mexico. They are hardy birds, able to survive a harsh terrain. To build a nest they simply scratch out a depression in the dry soil beneath a bush or cactus, and line it with a few sticks, dead leaves, twigs, or grass. They lay 10 to 12 eggs that they incubate for 21 to 24 days. The male and female both take care of the chicks for the first ten days of their life.

Exploring a new world
After the chicks hatch, the parents take them all off at once to explore their new home, focusing on finding food sources. The family forms a line as they move from bush to bush in the desert sun, with the father leading the way.The chicks are followed by the mother pulling guard duty in the rear. The chicks eat mostly insects, while the parents eat the seeds of grasses, mesquite, and other plants, as well as berries. The quails are most active in the morning and evening, which helps them avoid predators. If danger looms, adults can run at speeds of almost 15 miles per hour (23 kilometers per hour), and fly 40 miles per hour (65 kilometers per hour).

Coveys of quails
Gambel's quails live in groups called coveys. In the daytime they forage in family groups or in small coveys, but in the evening they gather at waterholes in huge coveys of up to 200 birds. They drink together, then roost together as a group in the safety of nearby trees. The next morning the whole covey drinks again, and then breaks up into smaller groups to forage for food the rest of the day.

Gambel's quail at Brookfield Zoo
The desert bird exhibit in Feathers and Scales: Birds and Reptiles usually is not crowded. You can get right up to the front of the exhibit and see Gambel's quail, along with their exhibit mates, roadrunners.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society