Gambel's Quail: Bird of Desert and Suburb

By Dave Hanks

The loud, nasal “Ka-Ka-KAA-Ka” of this bird is usually heard before it is seen. It clucks away while scurrying under the desert shrubbery. It’s well adapted to the arid conditions of our southwestern states, and the thorny desert scrub that it prefers as habitat. It will roost at night in Mesquite or other thorny bushes but prefers being on the ground in daylight to forage. It is a fast runner and will do so in preference to flying.

The bird is ten inches long, with a pear-shaped body. The male has a black face and belly patch, and a rusty-colored crown. The female lacks these markings. However, both have a very distinguishable, forward pointing plume that gives it an endearing appearance that is easy to fall in love with. A covey of chicks is very adorable, as they scurry after Mom and Dad.

A nest on the ground usually contains 10 to 12 eggs - which require 22 to 23 days of incubation by both parents. When conditions are mild, most may survive to result in a dramatic population increase. This offsets the bad years when there’s a lack of rainfall and extreme temperatures - which are major hazards for the chicks.

Coveys consist of two adult birds and 16 or more younger ones. When predators, such as Bobcats, appear the birds will remain motionless relying upon camouflage for protection.

When in southern Arizona, we experience them in campgrounds or running in a group across roads – both in the suburbs or out in the country. It seems that they rarely are still and are either running or bobbing their heads vigorously. During a recent occurrence, we put out seed hoping to get one or two to photograph. We were surprised when about 30 showed up for lunch. It was hard to concentrate on one, as all were running and scratching for feed and then fleeing to the bushes and back out again.

(Moving out while displaying his kingly topknot)