California Quail

California Quail have a distinctive ‘Chi-ca-go’ call.

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The California Quail is a handsome miniature soccer ball of a game bird with a small head and bill, and a distinctive black head plume that curls forward in males. Its wings are short and very broad. The birds are a rich gray and brown, with a black face outlined with bold white stripes, and a combination of white, creamy, and chestnut scales on the belly. Though the topknot looks like a single feather, it is actually an overlapping cluster of six. The topknot in females is shorter, more upright, and a slightly duller black.

Listen for their distinctive, loud “Chi-ca-go” sound, often repeated in a series. These birds aren’t from the Midwest, despite their distinctive call, and are found only on the west coast. As you get closer you’ll hear them clucking in the brush and suddenly rushing across a roadway or flushing from the ground in a cloud of wings whistling from the force of their collective flight. They’re quite tolerant of people and can be common in city parks, suburban gardens, and agricultural areas.

You can attract California Quail to your yard by sprinkling grain or birdseed on the ground and providing dense shrubbery nearby for cover. Quail seed blocks are also a great way to attract these birds in their native environments. Place blocks in, or near, low brush in the general area where quail coveys are normally seen. One block will feed an average covey for two to three months.

Foraging in the wild, they scratch the ground, finding seeds and leaves to eat.

The nest site is usually on the ground, under a shrub or in a shallow depression next to a log or other cover. The downy young leave the nest within a day after hatching. The young feed themselves from hatching and can fly short distances at the age of 10 days.

This quail is common from the Baja peninsula in Mexico to its northernmost range in Washington state. Audubon scientists estimate that up to 76% of habitat will be lost due to wildfires repeatedly burning habitat and spring heat waves endangering young in the nest.

Go to audubon.org for more information and to hear the familiar calls of these birds. Go to kittitasaudubon.org for local events and newsletters.

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