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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Birds of Blue Feathers

The California quail, also known as the valley quail, topknot quail, and California partridge, is a prized game bird known for its hardiness and adaptability. Part of a species-group found only in the Americas and known as New World quails, it is found throughout the Pacific Northwest.

This round-bellied wildfowl, beautifully multi-colored with blue, gray, white and rust feathers, is smaller than a pigeon. The males’ heads are black with white stripes; females have brown heads. Both have a short plume (or topknot), which looks like a single feather but is actually a cluster of six overlapping feathers, curving downward from the top of the head. They have short necks, wide wings, and long, square tails. Their diet consists mostly of the seeds and leaves of a number of plants—especially the fresh shoots of annual weeds—but they also eat acorns, berries, flowers, bulbs, and insects.

Flock sizes range from just a few individuals, to 60 or more in the fall and winter. Quails typically roost in trees or shrubs, but form pairs in the spring to nest in foliage-concealed hollows scratched into the ground. Females, who are less colorful than the males, lay from 6 to 28 creamy white eggs that are thickly spotted with golden brown. Once hatched, the young associate with both adults. Often, families group together into communal broods which include at least two females, multiple males, and many offspring. They have a variety of vocalizations, which include social and warning sounds. California quail have been clocked at ground speeds in excess of 12 miles per hour (compared to roadrunners at 25 mph), and in-flight speeds of 58 miles per hour.

According to renowned wildlife artist John James Audubon, the species was discovered in the late 1780s, in California, by members of an extensive scientific expedition led by Frenchman La Perouse after he sailed into the Spanish-owned port of Monterey.

The California quail was named the official California state bird in 1931.

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