Gambel’s Quail – Beginner’s Guide

The Gambel’s Quail is a quaint, nearly legendary symbol of the southwestern United States for many people.

The reality of their beauty and behavior is similar to legend with these charming little birds so often portrayed in paintings or photographs.

Gambel’s Quail often travel single file in small family groups. They can sometimes be seen crossing roads in this manner or foraging in parks or yards.

Feeding usually occurs in morning and late afternoon, and the diet is seasonal. Insects are taken when available, though Gambel’s Quail usually subsist on plant products like seeds and leaves.

They have also been known to eat cacti.

Resting during the hottest parts of the day and requiring little water, Gambel’s Quail are well suited to the dry, warm environments they inhabit.

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Gambel’s Quail

These birds communicate with each other through soft calls and are not territorial. Though they will often remain in a home range, these usually overlap with those of other Gambel’s Quail.

Gambels-QuailTo avoid predation, Gambel’s Quail rely on camouflage, remaining still in vegetation. If pursued, they will run quickly to save themselves.

Because they are slow in flight and more comfortable on the ground, Gambel’s Quail rarely fly. This species of quail may show aggression towards other birds, such as doves, when feeding in backyards.

READ MORE: Common Quail Care and Breeding

A mature Gambel’s Quail usually weighs between 160 and 200 grams. Their bodies are chunky in appearance. Often males reach lengths of 11 inches.

The characteristic plume on the head of the Gambel’s Quail is dark in color. It is thicker in males and more slender in females.

Gambel’s Quail

Males have dark heads and necks, and their creamy colored breasts are marked with a single black patch.

A rust colored crown marks off a black face, separated by a white outline.

Females do not have these dark markings, and overall their plumage tends to be duller in coloration than that of males.

Usually the sides of the Gambel’s Quail are chestnut colored, the wings are olive brown, and the entire quail is a grayish brown color, scored with cream or white colored markings.

ALSO SEE: Crested Guinea Fowl Information

Usually, populations of Gambel’s Quail living in more arid areas tend to have lighter coloration than those living in areas with more rainfall.

The natural range of the Gambel’s Quail lies in the United States, mostly in Arizona. They are also found in New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California.

Repeatedly, Gambel’s Quail were introduced to the island state of Hawaii, but few remain there today.

Gambel’s Quail are also found naturally in Mexico’s northern states. In some rare instances, hybrids of Gambel’s Quail and Scaled or California Quail have been noted.


Because Gambel’s Quail are so tolerant of other members of their species, they are easy to keep in large groups. At mating season, males can become quite aggressive toward other males and will defend territories, so it may be a good idea to separate pairs at this time.


Gambel’s Quail usually mate for life. Under some circumstances, females may abandon their young, leaving them with their old mate to find a new male!

Courtship occurs with a process, in which the male offers bits of food to the female.

Nesting occurs in the spring.

Usually nests are built in sheltered areas on the ground, though low tree branches are sometimes used.

The nest is constructed of twigs, grass, or other available materials and lined with similar, soft materials like grass.

Often feathers are used in the lining.

The nest will be a round depression and about four inches by 15 inches in dimension.

Gambel’s Quail eggs are white and often have brown spots. They are smooth in texture. Although in years with less rainfall smaller clutches will be deposited, under normal conditions an average clutch contains between 10 and 12 eggs.

The female incubates these eggs for between 21 and 23 days, although if something happens to her, the male will attempt to incubate the clutch himself.

Although both parents normally raise the hatchlings, Gambel’s Quail can often successfully rear a brood alone if their mates are not present.

The little quail can fly by the time they are about three weeks old!

In urban settings Quail will often select outdoor pots of Geraniums or other thick plants to nest in. They need to have the soil in the pot within an inch of the top so the hatchlings can get over the edge.

If you are tempted to provide food and water make sure the water is in a jar lid.

Anything deeper may drown the chicks. It has been reported that wild birdseed and mash are good foods.

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