Ground-dwelling birds (Odontophoridae and Phasianidae Families)California Quail; Courtesy of H. Vannoy Davis © California Academy of Sciences

Namesake of Quail Ridge, California Quail (Callipepla californica) predominantly inhabit the coastal and interior regions of California. Their abundance on the Reserve is likely due in part to their tolerance for dehydration during periods of high temperatures and drought. However, quail do require standing water for survival during these times. Quail Ridge also hosts Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus), providing the chaparral and brush cover vital for protection and breeding. Both species are short, plump, mostly ground-dwelling birds, distinguished by black, head-borne plumes, comma-shaped on the California Quail and upwardly erect on the Mountain Quail.

While Mountain Quail have been detected at Quail Ridge in the winter and spring, the full extent of their occupancy is unknown. Their range in California is restricted to mid- to high-elevation mountains throughout the state with some altitudinal migration down-slope in winter. In coastal chaparral mountains and the foothills of the Sierra, Mountain and California quail are sympatric. Since Quail Ridge may be too isolated for Mountain Quail to use as a periodic migration destination (they are short-distance fliers), this species is likely resident. Further study is needed to examine their geographic movements and foraging at Quail Ridge.

Mountain Quail; Photo courtesy of Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of SciencesBoth quail are able to digest vegetation as a consequence of intestinal symbionts obtained when pecking at adult feces as chicks. The California Quail feed mainly on legume leaves, other vegetation, and insects in the winter and then expand their diet to include berries and flowers in the summer. The Mountain Quail, on the other hand, primarily eat winter fruits and berries while in the same range.

Highly gregarious, quail form groups, or coveys, of two to 200 birds that forage collectively and move within a range during the non-breeding season. The males participate in a dominance hierarchy that may function in mate selection, brood movement, and inter-covey social relationships. The birds maintain contact using various calls. At the onset of the breeding season, the members of a covey break up into pairs to independently raise their young. Females typically make a depression in the ground and line it with grass or stems; alternatively they will nest in lower tree regions or brush piles. Egg laying occurs from late April to early June. A female may lay one to 28 eggs and incubate them while the male stands as sentinel. The eggs are vulnerable to a wide variety of predators, including Western Scrub Jays, gopher snakes, northern raccoons, American Crows, coyotes, and gray foxes. Once the precocial chicks have hatched and gained the ability to roost in trees, the pair and chicks will rejoin the covey.

The third ground-dwelling species – and Quail Ridge’s largest avian inhabitant – is the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). Wild Turkeys were introduced into California and have spread as a result of limited Wild Turkey; Photo courtesy of Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciencescompetition and predation. Forming flocks upwards of 40 to 50 individuals, turkeys spend most of their time walking the landscape in search of forage. They feed on berries, acorns and other nuts, seeds, and some insects in deciduous forest clearings and grasslands. In spring, turkeys form harems before females separate to nest. They lay 8 to 14 eggs in a nest hollow in the ground that is often concealed by grass or shrubs. Once hatched, turkey young follow their parents for approximately two weeks before achieving flight. Despite their largely earthbound lifestyle, adult turkeys fly well enough to evade potential predators and to roost together in low trees.

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Photo Credits: Title, California Quail (Joyce Gross), California Quail (H. Vannoy Davis), Mountain Quail (Glenn and Martha Vargas), Wild Turkey (Gerald and Buff Corsi). For more pictures see:

This page last updated: April 5, 2007  

Contact: Dr. Virginia Boucher
John Muir Institute of the Environment
109 The Barn, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
Phone: 530-752-6949; email:

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