Mountain Quail

Scientific name: Oreortyx Pictus
Classification: Game bird
Size: Approximately 26 to 29 centimeters (10½ to 12 inches), Approximately 200 to 255 grams (7 to 9 ounces)



They are large quail with long, straight plumes on their heads. Males and females are similar in appearance, but the females have shorter plumes. They have gray heads and breasts, chestnut throats that are outlined in white, chestnut bellies marked with white bars and their upper areas are brownish-gray.


Life span:

As with most quail their life spans are very short. A mountain quail that is three or found years old would be considered to be a very old bird.



Mountain quail live in high altitudes where they can be found in grasslands, brush and in open country. They prefer steep slopes with trees and brush for cover. From spring through summer they are found in higher elevations, but move to lower areas when winter arrives.



They live in mountain ranges along the west coast of the u.s. they occur from eastern Washington state to southern California and into Idaho and the northern and western parts of Nevada.


Natural history:

Mountain quail can be found at elevations up to 10,000 feet. They travel to the higher elevations in the spring and then move to lower elevations when cold weather arrives in the mountains in the fall. These seasonal migrations are unique to mountain quail. They are gregarious birds that form coveys (groups) of up to 20 birds in the fall in winter.


Food habits:

Their diet consists primarily of plants that are seasonably available. These include berries, seeds, acorns and even mushrooms. They will also eat insects. Young birds need protein for their development, so approximately 20 percent of their diets are insects.



During the spring breeding season mountain quail are found in dense cover where they build their nests, which consist of shallow depressions in the ground. They typically lay from 10 to 12 eggs that have an incubation time of 24 days. Within hours of hatching the young birds feed themselves, but are directed to food and are protected by their parents.



Mountain quail are a game bird in Nevada, so there is an established hunting season for them. They are also protected, so they cannot be harvested outside of the strict guidelines that have been established for hunting.


Reason for status:

The major threat to mountain quail is human development (urbanization) in their mountain habitats, particularly the mountain ranges. Loss of habitat rather than hunting is the threat to mountain quail populations.


Management & conservation:

Nevada is on the periphery of the mountain quail’s range. The Nevada department of wildlife has made major efforts to reestablish mountain quail into areas where they existed in the 1940s and 1950s. Birds have been relocated to these areas by the agency. The agency asks the public to report any sightings of mountain quail to (775) 688-1523.


Fun facts:

Mountain quail are very secretive birds, so seeing them is an exciting experience. One of the best times to see the birds is in the fall when they are together in groups, called coveys.