Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
Read Caption
A California quail photographed at Australia Zoo in Beerwah
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

California Quail

Although highly sedentary, the California quail congregates in large coveys during the fall and winter. It hybridizes with the Gambel’s quail where their ranges overlap. Polytypic (5 ssp.; 4 in North America). Length 10".


The California is a plump, short-tailed quail with gray and brown plumage; a prominent teardrop-shaped head plume or double plume is present in both sexes. Adult male: pale forehead with brown crown and black throat, scaled belly with a chestnut patch, brown upperparts. Adult female: similar to adult male but muted and lacking distinctive facial pattern; head plume smaller. Juvenile: grayish brown to brown overall and heavily mottled. Belly pale and lacking the scaled appearance of the adults. Usually has a short head plume.

Geographic Variation

Subspecies variation is based on differences in coloration and size, which are more pronounced in females. Adult female canfieldae (found in east-central California) and californica (the most widespread subspecies) have grayish upperparts; adult female brunescens (found in the more mesic coastal mountains) have brown upperparts. The catalinensis subspecies is endemic to Santa Catalina Island.

Similar Species

The California is similar in structure and size to the Gambel’s quail, but the Gambel’s lacks the scaled underparts and brown sides and crown.


Call: an emphatic chi-ca-go similar to the Gambel’s, but lower pitched and usually 3 notes; sometimes shortened on only 1 or 2 syllables. A variety of grunts and sharp cackles are also made.

Status and Distribution

Common year-round in open woodlands and brushy foothills, usually near permanent water sources. It has adapted well to urban development where sufficient cover is provided. This species has been introduced locally within the general boundaries of the mapped range, including Utah. Successful introductions have been made in Hawaii, Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand.


Since 1960, the overall population has declined in the United States.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006