Bird of the Week: Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)

There are a few kinds of quail in our area, and if you are lucky, you will get to see the Scaled Quail! A beautiful bird named for the feather pattern they display that looks like scale mail armor.

Scaled Quail Callipepla squamata

Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)

These birds also have a characteristic white tip-notch on their head which they can raise and lower a bit, and that gives them one of their other common names, “cotton top”. These birds have many predators including coyotes, hawks, snakes, and they are also popular game birds. As such, they will only feed and live in grasslands that help hide them from predators. Although not endangered, in our area their numbers are declining with the loss of grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Scaled Quail eat mostly seeds, but they will also feed on insects and leaves. The best way to find these birds is with specially trained hunting dogs, or you can find a large grassland area and listen for the male’s call, then approach slowly and quietly keeping your eyes on the ground. Look for these birds around water in the early morning and evening. If you hear a scaled quail call but can’t find it, it might be a mocking bird which frequently mocks the quail’s call.

A special thanks to Seth Hall of the LTER Jornada Experimental Range for lending his bird expertise for this article.

For more information, check out Cornell’s Ornithology Website.

Photo Credit: “Scaled Quail (Callipepla Squamata)” by Clinton and Charles Robertson - CC BY- SA 2.0

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