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C R E A T U R E   C O M F O R T S



Gambel's Quail

by Sue Hakala, Master Gardener

A Gambel's Quail begins life in a nest that is basically a scratched out depression in the dirt measuring approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inch in depth and 5 to 7 inches in diameter. This nest will be located in a well-sheltered, shady area.

Mom will lay one egg and then rest for a day, then lay again the next day and so on until 10 to 12 eggs are laid. She will incubate the eggs with dad keeping watch from a nearby perch. All the eggs will hatch at the same time, in approximately 22 days. Dad then typically leads the covey (group of quail) through the vegetation to find insects for the young to eat. Juvenile quail eat only insects for the first month, utilizing the protein to help them grow. After that, they add succulent leaves and vegetation to their diet. It takes three months for them to become independent adults.

Gambel's Quail live in the deserts of the Southwest and south into Northern Mexico, typically in family groups of 5 to 7 birds. In the Sonoran Desert, one breeding pair requires about 5 acres to raise their brood, and they need to stay within about a mile of a water source. They also require brush for cover, and for escape when they are threatened. Typically, this kind of habitat also provides the insects, seeds, and small plants that they eat.

Gambel's Quail are particularly fond of legumes; the leaves, flowers and especially the seeds make up about 95 percent of their diet. They also eat seeds from grasses, cactus fruits, and other plants. Since quail rest during the hottest part of the day, plants also provide shade from the sun. If quail can't extract enough moisture from their food to survive, they must find supplemental water sources.

In the desert, quail reproduction rates are tied to winter rains. The rains influence plant chemistry, especially in legumes. Plants produce phytoestrogens, chemical compounds that regulate reproduction in birds and mammals. When rains are skimpy plants become stunted and produce more phytoestrogens. Eating these plants effects quail body chemistry, triggering lower reproduction.

To recognize a Gambel's Quail, look for their jiggling, forward-facing topknot. The plump birds are poor flyers, and spend most of their time on the ground. They are, however, capable of quick flight up into surround trees when danger threatens.

Look for them in mesquite habitats and riparian areas, and listen for their distinctive call. They make 10 different vocalizations. A good place to see them locally is on the "Quail Run" trail at the Desert Botanical Garden. Just have a seat on one of the benches and sit there quietly; it won't be long until these busy birds come by.




Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated December 18, 2003, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092