Gambel's Quail

Scientific name: Callipepla Gambelii
Classification: Game bird
Size: Approximately 25 to 29 centimeters (10 to 11½ inches), Approximately 160 to 200 grams (6 to 7 ounces)


Grayish in color with chestnut sides, olive wings, yellowish belly and dark teardrop-shaped feather plume (topknot). Males have a black forehead and face that is surrounded by a white border. Females have a more dull and thin plume and lack the black face coloring of the males. They are fast runners and will fly only to escape danger or when they encounter obstacles such as roads.


Life span:

A maximum of three to four years



The gambel’s quail is a native to southern Nevada with its habitat being desert thickets. The birds are also found on agricultural lands and in urban Las Vegas, as well as in and around Panaca, mesquite and Pahrump. They are not migratory and their annual movements are typically less than two miles.



They are found in southwestern deserts from eastern Texas to California. They are also found in northern Mexico.


Natural history:

Gambel’s quail are well adapted to living in the harsh Mojave Desert climate that is found in southern Nevada. This is the land of extremes where daytime temperatures in the summer can exceed 110 degrees fahrenheit (43 celsius) and winter temperatures can drop to below freezing. This quail is native to the Mojave desert and the southern portion of the great basin. Their populations are dependent on precipitation that falls in the desert. When the rains come and grasses, seeds and water are abundant, they produce large broods of young and there are large numbers of birds. When the rains don’t come and drought conditions persist, they produce small broods, or may not even produce young in those years.


Food habits:

Most of their diet consists of plants, which includes seeds, grasses and leaves that are eaten throughout the year. Insects are a source of protein and are eaten during the nesting season (spring through early summer) and by chicks that need the protein for their development. Quail feed in coveys as they travel slowly on the ground. They drink from springs, seeps and streams. Small game water developments (guzzlers) have been placed in the desert by the Nevada department of wildlife to catch and store rain water for use year round by the quail.



Breeding occurs in the spring when, during a good year, the hen lays 10 to 15 eggs in a bowl-shaped nest that is constructed on the ground and made of leaves, feathers, grass and twigs. Nests are hidden under shrubs or rocks for protection against predators, such as hawks. The eggs are incubated for 21 to 24 days. The young that are produced are fledged (no longer totally dependent upon parents) in 10 days.



The gambel’s quail is state protected. It is also a game bird in Nevada, meaning there is an established hunting season for them in the state that usually takes place from early October through the end of January.


Reason for status:

While populations vary from year-to-year, they continue to thrive in their desert habitat. While predators such as bobcats, roadrunners, coyotes and hawks as well as human hunters take a significant number of birds, the major factor influencing their populations is the weather. Temperature and rainfall are the prime influences on their populations. Populations rise and fall rapidly depending on the weather.


Management & conservation:

Habitat protection is key to maintaining healthy populations of gambel’s quail. Proper management of cattle grazing on public lands as well as control of feral horse and burro numbers benefit quail and other native wildlife. Wildlife water developments also help quail to sustain in small numbers during years of severe drought conditions.


Fun facts:

Males entice females by offering them bits of food. This is called “tidbitting” and it’s the way that females select a mate.