- Photo: Ned Harris
The eggs are laid over several days but the female does not begin sitting on the eggs until they all are laid, thus ensuring that they all hatch at the same time.
Gambel’s Quail are plump, ground-dwelling birds with plumed top-knots and are quite unmistakable. The male with his rufous crown, black teardrop-shaped head plume and black belly patch is a delight to encounter, especially on an early desert morning when he is teed up and calling from a prominent perch.
Whenever Gamble’s are found, they are usually heard before they are seen. Typically it is the male giving either its characteristic descending wail or its four syllable “chi-CA-go-go” call from high atop a perch. Family groups foraging through the brush will frequently be heard giving soft clucking contact notes.
Gambel’s Quail favorite habitats are brushy canyons and washes, especially those with mesquites and those near water, so they are very much at home in Sabino Canyon. Young birds will gobble up insects they find on the ground but the adults are primarily vegetarians. Mesquite bosques provide both cover for the feeding birds and a staple of their diet with the seed pods on the trees. Gambel’s also feed on fresh grasses, plant buds, cactus fruit as well as hackberries and wolfberries.
Coveys of Gambel’s Quail can be seen feeding together from late summer through late winter. When they are feeding, one of the males remains alert to warn the others of approaching danger. At night, the birds roost in bushes or low tree branches.
Early in the spring, birds will pair off and leave the covey to nest. Gambel’s nests are typically a scrape on the ground, in the shade of a brush, lined with grasses and feathers. The eggs are laid over several days but the female does not begin sitting on the eggs until they all are laid, thus ensuring that they all hatch at the same time. The young are precocial, i.e. already well developed right out of the egg, which allows them to leave the nest within a day after hatching.
Gambel’s numbers correlate closely to the amount of winter (October-March) precipitation. The more rain we get the more young quail you will see in the spring.