Cochise County Birds: Gambel’s Quail, Callipepla gambelii, at the Border Fort

Callipepla gambelii? Yes. Pam had been seeing the covey of Gambel’s quail pecking the ground around our off grid Cochise County home (dubbed the Border Fort) off and on for months. Mostly in the early morning hours, though, when I was sleeping and she wasn’t. On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, that changed; I glanced out of the north side office window around 11:00 a.m. and there they were.

Two? No, more than that…oh. Those first two are juveniles, more than half grown, but still considerably smaller than their parents.

Well, then. Would they hang around long enough for me to get the camera? I no longer carry the Canon PowerShot at my left hip on a daily basis, figuring all the items I had hanging on my belt–key chains, camera case, folding knife in leather sheath, cell phone holster–had made me look like some relation to a police officer for long enough. Beside, all that weight had a tendency to drag my jeans toward the floor…and nobody needs to see that.

Thankfully, the charming little quail did decide to stick around for a while, as the photos in this post will attest. I was thoroughly grateful, too; photo ops for our other resident quail species have been more than sufficient, but the Gambel’s? Not so much.

They made up for it today. Especially this one fellow. His photos came out best–if you like flashy, anyway–so he gets most of the glory.

The handsome Gambel's quail who posed for a major photo op today.

The handsome Gambel’s quail who posed for a major photo op today.

Okay, Wikipedia says the males have “copper feathers” on the tops of their heads, so yes, this one’s a male. What Wiki does not say, however, is that the girl quail looks decidedly more feminine in the face than does the male. No idea if there are transgendered quail who might confuse that issue, though….

Apparently, California quail look a lot like the Gambel’s quail we see here in southeastern Arizona, but lack the black patch on the under-front side of the breast. So there’s a relatively easy ID for you, should you happen to live in an area where both species might be found.

The Gambel's quail has a black patch under the breast, distinguishing it from the California quail.

The Gambel’s quail has a black patch under the breast, distinguishing it from the California quail.

The female of the species, like many birds, chooses a more drab appearance, as seen in the header photo (top of page). In the case of the Gambel’s quail, this may well be an important survival tactic. She lays her eggs on the ground and does most if not all of the incubating, which means being well camouflaged is a good way to keep from being eaten by a passing coyote, bobcat, or other prowling predator. Hunkered down, those blue-gray feathers would look pretty much like a rock, so as long as she didn’t blink….

She takes care of herself well, too, fluffing her feathers and rooting out pesky parasitical whatever bugs while her man is puffing out his chest atop the nearest little mound of dirt.

Female Gambel's quail, fixing her feathers.

Female Gambel’s quail, fixing her feathers.

Who you looking at, buster?

Who you looking at, buster?

Ah, well.  Back to pecking for seeds.  A woman's work is never done.

Ah, well. Back to pecking for seeds. A woman’s work is never done.

No, really; are you looking at me?

No, really; are you looking at me?

Aw-w-w!

Aw-w-w!

Make sure you get my good side.

Make sure you get my good side.

Meanwhile, back at the dirt mound, Mr. Gambel’s is still standing tall (most of the time) and surveying his kingdom. I didn’t manage to get any good shot of the juveniles in the covey, but the copper topped Daddy Bird wanted to be sure he made the cover of Quail R Us magazine…or at least this website. He also said I could quit captioning the photos; his awesome photos speak for themselves. A self confident dude, definitely.

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Interesting Gambel’s quail trivia tidbit: The youngsters eat more insects than anything else, gradually transitioning to seeds and other vegetable matter as they mature. The chicks are very precocious, however, able to follow their mother around within hours of hatching, feeding themselves as they go. Which sounds like these birds have figured out this parenting thing, for sure. Beats changing dirty diapers like we humans do (for years!) or, for that matter, regurgitating food for squawking nest bound chicks in the fashion of many other birds. And an early diet of squiggly insects tickling one’s throat…hey, can’t be much worse than some of that stuff we bottle and call baby food.

Anyway, this author was blessed with the photo opportunity provided by the Gambel’s quail foraging near the Border Fort. Sharing was mandatory.

4 thoughts on “Cochise County Birds: Gambel’s Quail, Callipepla gambelii, at the Border Fort

  1. These definitely run on the cute side. I have seen several coveys of families running around here. They run across the road and try to get the littlest ones run over. Mamma goes first and then all the babies follow in a row. If you catch them grazing in the road, they will run along the road looking for a gap in the brush to run through. Then they are gone. You can’t see them at all, once they get through the long grass along the side of the road.
    Meanwhile, the bunnies will play chicken, and wait until you are starting by to run across the road. It is like it’s a game to them. Roadrunners are the same way.

  2. Our covey (the one I was photographing) has their babies more than half grown, so the road kill effect (plus predators, of course)for the littlest ones has probably already run its course. I didn’t get a clean count, but there were no more than four or five juveniles left, at most. And they certainly disappear magically once they reach any sort of semi-serious vegetation.

    As for the bunnies and roadrunners playing chicken, I never thought of it being like a game to them. My perception has always been that they simply don’t register the vehicles as major threats until they’re super-close, and then they panic and go the wrong way. But it would be interesting to find out they really did look at it as a game–and after all, we humans sometimes race trains to railroad crossings, so it’s not like we can talk!

  3. Ghost, these birds are beautiful! Another difference I noticed between the male and female, is the female has more feminine-looking feet. They’re not as rough and bumpy as the male’s. Nor are they as wide.

    They’re both beautiful. You took some fine shots, as usual.

  4. Thanks, Sha; I never noticed, but you’re certainly right about the girl quail having far more feminine-looking feet. A regular dainty damsel.

    Appreciate the compliment on the photography. Now, on to the Magic Mushroom story….

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