The quail, it's habits and habitats
The Gambel's Quail and their many subspecies can be grouped together as they are all about the same size, of the same habits, with similar markings are found in the same general areas.
They are subject to predators and sudden weather changes and in areas where they have been reduced by these conditions The Gambel's quail is about nine inches long and appears chestnut and purple-blue in color. The adult male quail is bluish-grey above with grey on his breast, but the belly is patched with buff and black. Head and throat are strikingly marked with bars of white and the rust-brown crown curves into a handsome black crest. The female quail is more drab in appearance. The California mountain quail is similar but with a more marked tassel OIT the top of the head.
These and their subspecies are birds of the semi-arid mountains and hill country of the Southwest and particularly California. They flock in coveys just like their cousins, the bob-white and so offer great sport to bird hunters working their dogs, particularly the German short-haired pointer.
These quail seem to have taken to civilization very well and are found in and around the fringe of cities where there is water, food and cover. Quite often in the larger towns they will parade across people's lawns and live in the bushy undeveloped lots near homes, roads and factories. They do well in captivity and are raised for the table.
When they seek safety they tend to run at first rather than fly, streaking across the ground with head and neck outstretched, their tassels bobbing as they go. When forced to take flight their air path is quite erratic, as with all the quail family. They do not fly too far generally, preferring to settle down in good cover until disturbed again.
The hunter, knowing this can allow them to rest and regroup before coming upon them again for another try. Like all the quail family, they seem to believe in cooperative protection, often sleeping in a circular formation at night with all their heads pointed outwards from the circle.
They mate and breed in the spring and the female lays up to a dozen eggs, and sometimes has more than one clutch in or by disease, the state conservation departments have protected them and restocked the broods with fresh blood from other areas. In general, they seem to be doing well despite the encroachments of civilization.
The quails food varies according to range, the greatest part of it being seeds, buds and grains with berries as a second choice. Some insects are in the diet where the birds reside near watered areas. The hackberry bush is one of their mainstays, but they have been known to gorge themselves on bugs and particularly beetles and grasshoppers.
Quails spend most of the year in pairs or singles, gathering into varied flocks as high as sixty birds in the fall months. When spring comes they disband again just prior to finding their mate.
They do not have the familiar "bobwhite" call such as their eastern cousin, but make up for this in the plumage beauty.
The bobwhite is truly America's favorite, a true native of this country, with its whistle call that has made it one of the most famous birds of the world. The "bobwhite" bell-like notes immediately help to locate the bird in the cover and a cheery sound it is to the hunter.
It is a brave little bird and a "smart alec" of the fields and farmlands, preferring to live near the farmer rather than be a recluse in the forest.
"Bob" at one time lived over most of the land, with several subspecies still prevailing to this day in almost all but the most frigid parts of the country. His stronghold is in the states south of New York, Michigan and Oregon, liking the vacation land of Florida, Georgia, Virginia, the south central Mississippi Valley and the Southwest, where he is found in great abundance. The plantation owners of the South have kept their covers well-birded by introducing wild strains with pen-raised stock to keep the coveys large and strong for hunters.
At one time, "Mr. White" lived well in New England, but during the past twenty years has steadily decreased in number.
In New Jersey though he still thrives despite the winters, land reclamation and development. Before rifles were made unlawful in the counties near New York City, sportsmen shot off the predators and the quail thrived. Few are found now in West-chester and nearby counties, unless stocked on private preserves.
This quail is a checkerboard of browns, tans, yellows and off-white with black streaks here and there to further help in his camouflage. He is a very small bird, weighing a scant half to three-quarter pounds, is short-tailed, fast and erratic in flight. Enough of his numbers in the frying pan can make quite a dinner.
Bobwhites prefer to stick together in coveys, roosting and feeding together and rising in a group when put up by dogs. They are easy to photograph and, as mentioned, simple to locate by their famous whistle call that can usually be heard across the fields from dawn to dusk.
Famous sportsmen and farm hands alike love him for the continued sport he offers. His one weak point is low resistance to bad weather and disease, but conservation methods have been developed to keep quail numbers high enough so we will always hear his call.
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Most of the fantastic pictures of the various species of gamebirds on this website where taken by one man. If you wish to view more stunning pictures I recommend a visit to the website of Tom Grey.