Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nature Watch: "Gambel's quail"


Last updated 5/1/2023 at 10:18am

One of the joys of living or visiting the desert is the chance to see wildlife that you won't see anywhere else.

The pear-shaped Gambel's quail is just one of those beautiful creatures you may encounter while hiking in Palm Canyon, relaxing at La Casa del Zorro, or meandering along a desert trail through thickets of mesquite.

While there are many quail species throughout the Southwest, Gambel's quail are exclusively a desert resident with a range that extends from Borrego Springs eastward into Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Northern Mexico.

While the Gambel's quail can fly, you will most often see them skittering along the ground as they search for a variety of food items, including cactus fruit, insects, leaves, seeds and blades of grass.

These are very social birds, often congregating in coveys numbering 20 or more that will most often run and hide when disturbed rather than flying away.

Populations of quail are highly dependent upon available green food, with numbers fluctuating from year to year depending on rainfall totals.

This year's ample desert rains could result in a significant increase in the Gambel's quail population.

Backyard bird watchers who put out wild bird seed should keep this in mind this year and scatter some seed on the ground to attract these plump little visitors. You can also expect doves to take advantage of seeds on the ground.

From a distance, it might be hard to distinguish the Gambel's quail from the more common California quail.

The male Gambel's is the most colorful, with a large topknot, black face, red cap and white headband above the eyes.

The chest and back are gray, and the most identifiable feature is a black spot in the center of a buffy colored abdomen.

The flanks are a deep chestnut color with bold streaks of white.

Females have a much smaller topknot, an entirely gray head and the distinctive black spot on the abdomen.

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