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Posts Tagged ‘Gambel’s quail’

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One of my favorite memories of a family trip to Arizona was seeing Gambel’s quail and white-winged doves. These birds are suburban wildlife, and coming from a place where the native quail species (the Northern bobwhite) is all but gone, the Gambel’s were my first experience with quail.

The birds lived and nested at the hotel where we were staying. I remember that one quail hen laid her eggs in flowerbed that was four feet off the ground.  One of the hotel staff motioned us over, and when we looked into the flower bed there was a quail hen and a bunch (maybe a dozen) tiny chicks. They were like turkey poults but much smaller.

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I thought white-winged doves were some kind of mutant mourning doves until I consulted my field guide.

And I thought Stevie Nicks made that animal up!

Source.

In the top video, there are mourning doves mixed in with the white-winged doves. They aren’t that hard to tell apart when they are standing near each other.

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strange-quail

In North America, we have birds that are called quail.

They are actually more like small partridges than the Coturnix quail.

The Coturnix quail are in the family Phasianidae, along with partridges, pheasants, chickens (junglefowl), tragopans, and francolins.

New World quail, though, are in entirely different family, the Odontophoridae. These are the so-called “toothed” quail, for these quail have a slightly serrated bills. They aren’t that closely related to the Coturnix species, however, and they have very different habits.

This is a female common quail.

This is a female common quail.

The Coturnix species endemic to Europe is called the common quail. It is a migratory bird, unlike virtually all other birds of this type. It flies from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe each each year. It is commonly propagated in captivity for its eggs, which are often sold hard-boiled and pickled.

The New World quail are not migratory at all. In fact, the Northern bobwhite is uncommon in the northern part of its range because it cannot handle harsh winters. These birds are about the same size as the common quail, but they live a very different life. They roost on the ground and form really strong pair bonds. The North American species have been extensively propagated in captivity, and the Northern bobwhite now exists in several different strains, including white and red varieties. These birds become extremely tame in captivity, which is very often a problem when they are stocked on shooting preserves. They are just too tame to run from people or dogs.

The only reason I can reason for calling the New World species quail is that the species first known to Europeans was the Northern bobwhite, which looks something like a common quail, if you have the imagination.

A Northern bobwhite.

A Northern bobwhite.

However, if Europeans had come from the Pacific Coast first, they would have encountered the other species of New World quail. These are the scaled, the Gambel’s, and the California or Valley quail. The males of the last two have elaborate head plumage. For some reason, this has been captured in the public imagination in the US as the archetypal quail head plumage.

Scaled quail

Scaled quail

Gambel's quail.

Gambel's quail.

California or Valley Quail, the birds that say "Chicago."

California or Valley Quail, the birds that say "Chicago."

The bobwhite species are all members of the genus Colinus. The Northern Bobwhite once ranged from Cape Cod to Southern Ontario west to Wisconsin and southern Minnesota. This range extended south to Mexico and many Caribbean islands. Today, this bird is uncommon in the northern parts of its range. My grandparents saw them regularly eating excess grain on their farms in West Virginia, but I’ve never seen a wild one there.  The bobwhite gets its name for its call, which goes “bob, bob-white.”

Most of the other species of New World quail in North America are in the genus Callipepla. The Gambel’s and the California quail are the most closely related. The Gambel’s is found in the deserts of the Southwest, from southern Arizona and New Mexico to parts of Utah, Nevada, and easternmost Califonia. Their range then extends into northern Mexico. The California or Valley quail is from from Baja California to British Columbia. It is best known for its call, which sounds like someone saying “Chicago, Chicago.” The scaled or blue quail’s range goes from central Mexico through to West Texas, westernmost Oklahoma, eastern Arizona, most of New Mexico, and southernmost Colorado.

There is also another genus of quail, the Mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus). These birds are a relict population of primitive New World Quail that live almost exclusively in the far westernmost mountains of California and Oregon, as well as some small populations in Washington. It is particularly associated with the chaparral habitat.

Mountain quail

Mountain quail

Now what is really interesting is that where the ranges of these species overlap, there are occasional hybrids. This photo is of a hybrid between two members of the Callipepla genus: the Gambel’s and the scaled. Hybrids also occur with the very closely related Gambel’s and California species where their ranges overlap.

However, intergeneric hybrids do occur in these quail. Remember, the bobwhites are in a different genus than the other quail in North America.

And this brings us to our mystery quail. Yes, the bird at the top of this post.

This bird is one of these intergeneric hybrids. It is a hybrid between a Gambel’s and Northern bobwhite.

Now, intergeneric hybrids are actually quite uncommon. Hybrids betwen species within the same genus are somewhat more commoplace. This “Gambelwhite” is truly a strange bird.

It is because of this tendency to hybridize that most breeders of these quail keep them in groups that contain their own species. Hybridization is just too much of a risk, and there are not many buyers for these birds, although they are certainly a novelty.

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