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California Quail
Callipepla californica
– Family
Authors: Calkins, Jennifer D., Julie C. Hagelin, and Dale F. Lott

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California Quail, adult male
Figure 1. Distribution of the California Quail in North America.

The California Quail is a New World Quail resident in westernmost North America. Although it shares morphological and behavioral features with its relatives the Gambel’s (Callipepla gambelii), Elegant (C. douglasii), and Scaled (C. squamata) quail, both males and females have unique plumage characteristics and vocalizations that make this species readily distinguishable from other New World Quail. This attractive game bird is the state bird of California and the subject of A. Starker Leopold’s 1977 book, The California Quail, which combines nearly a century’s worth of published and unpublished research into a single text.

This quail inhabits scrubby habitat primarily in California, Oregon, and Washington. It does best in broken habitat where it has access to cover and to annual food species, mainly legumes. Given its occurrence in arid land west of the California deserts, researchers have been particularly interested in its tolerance of high temperatures and drought (Sumner 1935, Bartholomew and Dawson 1958, Bartholomew and MacMillen 1961, Hudson and Brush 1964, Brush 1965, McNabb 1969a, 1969b, Carey and Morton 1971, Goldstein 1984). Like other New World Quail, it lives in coveys, or flocks, that move within a range during the nonbreeding season. This covey behavior has been an area of research interest (Emlen 1939, 1940, Howard and Emlen 1942, Barclay and Bergerud 1975, Lepper 1978b), but as yet no study has determined the balance between factors that determine covey size and stability. During the breeding season the covey breaks up, and individual pairs spread across the covey range to nest and raise their precocial young.

Annual productivity is related to a variety of ecological and environmental factors. Correlations have been found both between productivity and rainfall and between productivity and mortality (McMillan 1964, Raitt and Genelly 1964, Francis 1967, Savage 1974, Barclay and Bergerud 1975, Leopold et al. 1976, Leopold 1977, Koford 1987, Botsford et al. 1988). Productivity may also depend upon chemicals available in food plants (Leopold et al. 1976, Leopold 1977) and is strongly affected by disturbance such as fire (Koford 1987).

Although scientist and nonscientist alike hold a strong appreciation for the bright plumage and gregarious nature of this species, many aspects of its biology remain unknown. Future studies of population parameters—especially as related to habitat change—vocalization, and social and reproductive behavior would prove particularly promising.