Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A Gambel's quail photographed at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Gambel’s Quail

Although a common quail of the desert Southwest, the Gambel’s requires a lot of water. Generally sedentary, it moves short distances in the late summer to form coveys, usually comprising several family groups. It hybridizes with both California and scaled quails where their ranges overlap. Polytypic (2 ssp.; nominate in North America). Length 10".


Plump, short-tailed quail with gray plumage; prominent teardrop-shaped head plume or double plume in both sexes. Adult male: chestnut crown with black forehead and black throat; chestnut sides with whitish underparts with a black belly; gray upperparts. Adult female: similar to adult male but muted and lacking distinctive facial pattern. Head plume smaller. Juvenile: grayish brown overall and heavily mottled. Usually has a short head plume.

Similar Species

The California is similar in structure and size, but the chestnut crown and sides and lack of scaling on the Gambel’s easily separate them.


Call: a plaintive qua-el; and a loud chi-ca-go-go similar to the California’s, but higher pitched and usually 4 notes, sometimes shortened on only 1 or 2 syllables. Also a variety of clucking and chattering calls.

Status and Distribution

Common year-round in desert shrublands and thickets, usually near permanent water sources. Introduced to Hawaii, Idaho, and San Clemente Island, California.


The numbers appear to be stable over the past 60 years. The Gambel’s seems to be more tolerant of habitat disturbances than other Callipepla.

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