Friday, May 2, 2014

Gambel's Quail: Funny Little Desert Birds

Gambel's Quail in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The first time we saw a Gambel's Quail we were in the desert outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. We saw two adults and I have no idea how many babies because they have this great defensive habit of scattering in all directions, running so quickly then turning and changing directions so fast that you can barely follow them with a camera! They are lovely birds and great fun to watch! 

Gambel's Quail sitting in a tree in the arroyo behind my house. I love his black, velvety face. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The Gambel's Quail is a true Southwestern bird (and I am speaking figuratively, not scientifically). It is found in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. Visitors to New Mexico and Arizona may confuse them with the similar California Quail, but they are not the same species and their territories do not overlap. 

Female Gambel's Qual in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I've often seen Gambel's Quail referred to as "chubby little birds," but they are fast, smart, and cautious. I see them perched on debris from dead trees that people discard in the desert, fence posts, anything that provides them with a slight height advantage so they can watch for predators and send their young scrambling for safety. It's a shame that humans are among the predators or I might have better pictures of them! However, I am certain this pair will soon be scrambling through our neighborhood with a covey of quail as they are clearly paired and will have babies. 

The romantic couple scrambled when they saw me, darting in opposite directions, backtracking, trying to confuse me, then reunited when they realized I was not chasing them and they were safe. 

Gambel's Quail have short necks, small bills, square tails and are easily identified by the bobs on top of their heads. They camouflage well in the desert with their gray, cream, brown and reddish-brown coloring. They are also low to the ground so it's difficult to see them as they scramble among the sage. When they do fly, it is a fast, powerful, but short dart to give them a boost away from a predator. 

They may be a desert bird, but this couple has decided they like my house. This fella is making a quick run across our driveway. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

A group of quail is called a covey. The coveys of Gambel's Quail generally consist of a dozen or more birds. They eat grass and cactus fruit. They hang out in their coveys in the winter the same way antelope do, then pair off in spring. They have 10-12 eggs that incubate for 20 or so days then suddenly have a covey of their own scrambling this way and that! How I wish you could see them, they are such a delight! They look like very busy people running about on city streets trying to get their business done. 

Female Gambel's Quail. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Unfortunately, some areas allow hunting seasons for this bird, lasting from October to February, which seems rather silly--they provide food for desert predators such as wolves and coyotes and cannot possibly provide much meat. If we continue to kill the food of the predators, they will continue to attack our pets and livestock--it's common sense. 


In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge Q is for Quail.

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