SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: GAMBEL’S QUAIL
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One perk of being “stuck” at home for the last few months is that I’ve gotten a chance to really get to know the Gambel’s Quail that live in the yard.
A Sonoran desert specialist, these quail are usually found near desert streams and watering holes. However, they have adapted well to suburban areas too. There is a huge covey of them in the yard here in Corrales, NM. They have to compete for a spot at the “quail block” with Curve-billed Thrashers and Antelope Ground Squirrels, as well as the abundant House Sparrows. Otherwise, their life seems pretty easy.
The quail are a constant bustle of movement, busily foraging on the ground and clucking incessantly, or racing across the yard with dramatic crowing.
I knew breeding season was coming on when the males started finding higher perches and issuing a clear descending call. The yard population began pairing off, trooping around examining nest sites together, and finally settling in to build one under the sumac bushes. The females usually are the ones who line a shallow depression with grass, leaves, and twigs.
Gambel’s Quail raise big families, laying 10-12 eggs (occasionally even more!) The females in the yard disappeared for awhile, as they incubate exclusively (21-24 days).
About a week ago I caught sight of the first young quail in the yard – 11 puff balls who had probably left the nest only a few days before. They were following their parents along the adobe wall to the nearest quail block, learning the lay of the land. They were already able to fly short distances (if you count the 3 ft drop from the wall to the ground and back).
Gambel’s Quail will have one brood per year, unless there is an especially good food source. I suspect our yard quail sometimes attempt two broods, considering the endless supply of seed we procure for them…!
It’s certainly a treat to live alongside such interesting, comical, and beautiful birds!
While you will almost trip over them here in our yard, they can also be found in the Sandia foothills, and down around Socorro and Bosque del Apache, both of which are stops on our New Mexico Big Year tour each fall.