Male And Female California Quail

I rarely photograph California Quail because I’m generally not fond of the urban settings I usually find them in. Yesterday was different.

Because of wind and poor light I didn’t go shooting in the morning as I’d hoped so late in the day when the wind died down and we had some nice light I headed down to the Jordan River to see if I’d get lucky. I had my lens on another bird when I heard a familiar sound and was surprised to see a small covey of California Quail coming my way.

This was one of those many, many times when I was glad I was shooting from my pickup. The quail virtually ignored my vehicle and acted like I wasn’t even there. At first they approached me so closely I couldn’t even fit an individual bird in frame. I refer to my pickup as my “mobile blind” for good reason.


1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

This is one of about a half-dozen females and juveniles in the covey. She never did give me a great pose but I thought I’d include a photo of her for comparison to the male.



1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

And this is the male who spent no time at all feeding in the grasses as all the other birds did. His role was that of sentry – to watch out for any potential threats to the rest of the covey. He was completely attentive to his mission the entire time I was with these birds. Not one time did I see him peck for seeds or insects as all the other quail were doing.

The background in all three of these photos is water.



1/640, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

There’s a steep bank down to the shaded water in the background so in this image all the other quail are out of view below the top of the bank. But from this viewpoint the male could see both them and me without even moving his head so he didn’t budge from this spot the entire time the rest of the covey was feeding down there. I’m sure he wanted to make sure I didn’t make any suspicious moves.

I like to think he’s so relaxed at his sentry post that he had his legs crossed as he leaned against the tree.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t doze off though. After all, sleeping on sentry duty is a capital offense.





38 comments to Male And Female California Quail

  • Fran Lake

    There was so more to this than the pictures. Interesting that he was looking after the others. I believe we still have Quail but not in my birding area in this side of Philadelphia. My brother had them for eggs when he was a teenager. Cute.

  • Trudy Brooks

    Late In seeing the post today. They sure are beautiful. Not sure but we have some in the Big Horn Mountains, I thought they were California Quail, but could be another verity. Nice sharp pictures.

  • Joanne OBrien

    Beautiful birds and beautiful photos. I just have to get myself out West for a birding trip and see me some of those!!!

  • Dick Harlow

    Sorry I’m late today, had cataract surgery yesterday and a followup today! Went very well, other than the black eye I have. Got my left eye sight back!!
    Great Shots of a beautiful bird, love the backgrounds that you got!
    Thanks for posting!

  • Pat Henson

    At least Laura Culley doesn’t run over the quail! She knows how much I love them and by now, Ron you must know too. Not only have I observed the dominant male Gambel’s Quail stand sentry over his covey but also in a family the male will also stand sentry to keep his family safe. I have never seen the dominant quail let another male take a turn. Rather I think that this male is also a scout and on many occasions I have watched lone males arrive in my yard and eat seed. My guess is that this male then goes back to his covey or family to “spread the word.” It is possible that this quail calls out to the other quail from a high perch. This is the scenario that makes the most sense to me!

    Ron, thank you so much for this series of California Quail photos! Quail are very amusing and fascinating birds! In the past 6 weeks I have enjoyed the antics of a late breeding pair and their one chick, now clearly a male. Both parents chase other birds away from the chick and having learned this behavior, now the chick does the same thing as the parents watch!

    • They’re fun to watch, Pat. Several times while I’ve been watching 3-5 females dust bathing in my garden the dominant male is the only one that didn’t participate. He just stood as sentry.

    • Laura Culley

      Nope, I stop and let them have the right of way. I’m also encouraging my neighbors to slow it down to let the wildlife have a chance, too. And when there’s a carcass on the road, I’m stopping to throw it off the side of the road so that that vultures have time to get off the ground and into the air. For the moment, I’m the crazy lady that just moved in here 😉

  • They look like charming birds. And do they take being on guard in turn, or is it the dominant males responsibility?
    I have often been grateful (as I know you and Mia are) for your mobile blind. A part of me thinks it is sad that cars are so ubiquitous that even wild birds and animals can ignore them though.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Ron, we see these beautiful birds in our back yard and therefore look at them out of the window. However, we have to be very still because they are very sensitive to movement, sound and light from the window.

    I’ve noticed that a male ‘stands guard’ while the females eat. However, I’ve never noticed that the make doesn’t ‘take a bite’. The poses on the 2nd and 3rd photos are quite different in that the feathers seem puffed out on the 3rd. There must be a reason for that posture.

    Lastly, I just love the way they ‘hustle’ and scratch for their food. They enjoy the droppings from our bird feeder in our yard…so cute.

    Thank you for the great photos, as always, Ron.

    • Alice, we have boon and bust years with them in my neighborhood. That might be because DWR traps them wholesale along the Jordan River near my home and transplants them to other areas where they want them to flourish.

  • Betty Sturdevant

    I have many of the quail in my neighborhood and I love them. They clean up around the feeder and build dust baths in the flower bed. I have never seen a mail who looks malnourished nor a female for that matter. They also roost in a spruce tree in my yard and I have had them nesting under bushes. I feel very fortunate to have so much wildlife in the center of the city. Great pictures.

    • Betty, these birds have nested under the storage shed next to my garden twice that I’m aware of. And yes, they often take dust baths in the garden. The depressions they make (wallows) look like a bunch of little bombs have gone off in my garden…

    • Marty K

      How fun! We just get possums nesting in the garage from time to time and for a while a pair of skunks used to meet in our side yard for the occasional tryst.

  • Laura Culley

    Just beautiful! I’ll bet the males trade off sentry duties. After all, everybody’s got to eat. At the same time, protecting the covey is of utmost importance.
    I hope to see some Gambel’s quail up close and personal one day soon. They routinely make me stop the car to allow them to pass across my road (Pat Henson will hate reading this) 😉

    • Laura, this guy was the only adult male in the group so I doubt there was any other bird to trade off with.

    • Susan Stone

      Laura, interesting that Gambel’s Quail make you stop for them to cross. Here in far west Texas, the ones who do that are the Scaled Quail, whom I have dubbed Roadrunner Wannabes. Their behavior often seems very Roadrunner-like.

      • Laura Culley

        The roadrunners here tend to stay hidden in the brush on the sides of the roads, bearing in mind that this is a rural area where the concept of “road” is often pushed past its limit. I LIKE that. Mine is a dirt road, and then the other roads, little more than two tracks, go off from there.

  • Dick Ashford

    Hi Ron,
    Great images, and a nice description of the male’s duties. And, your post brings me back many decades in a non-birdy, non-photographic way! There was a time when I could (because I had to) recite the 11 General Orders for sentries. We added a 12th: “Don’t screw up”! We didnt phrase it quite that way…

    Thanks for the memories!

  • Patty Chadwick

    I love these cute, curvy, little guys…I remember the first time I saw them skittering around a campground picnic table. They looked like escapees from a Disney movie. I was surprised to see how small they were…

  • Susan Stone

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a California Quail. The male resembles the Gambel’s Quail we have here. I love the markings on these birds – so many patterns, kind of like a patchwork quilt. I’m glad you got these birds in a non-urban setting.

    • Susan, I’ve seen Gambel’s Quail in southern and central Utah (they don’t generally come this far north) but I’ve never photographed one that I remember.

  • Marty K

    The patterns in their feathers are so beautiful. I wonder if the noise from the cameras had any influence on Mr. Q’s lacking of snacking; that is, if they were close enough to hear it.

    • Marty, I doubt if the shutter sounds affected his behavior. I’ve watched groups of them through my window where they couldn’t see me and the male did the same thing – didn’t feed, just watched out for the group. It’s typical behavior for the species.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Awesome series Ron! It takes a MASTER to take advantage of poor conditio9.


  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful little birds, Ron. Definitely easy to tell males from females. Wonder when he DOES get to eat! 🙂 Vehicles can make good blinds. Here it seems they’re mostly ignored while moving tho wildlife will settle once you’ve stopped after awhile. 🙂 Glad you caught them without all the urban clutter.

    • “Wonder when he DOES get to eat!”

      That’s exactly what I kept thinking about as I watched them, Judy. In roughly 15 minutes I never did see him forage for food like all the other quail were doing.