Quail, California

California quailLatin name: Callipepla californica

Length, wingspan: 10″, 14″

What they eat: Seeds, plants, insects

Plants that attract: Shrubs and trees that provide cover, spilled seeds from bird feeders

Where they nest: In a depression on the ground in areas with tall grasses

My observations: One of my favorite garden birds, California quail are frequently described as being “plump,” which they probably don’t appreciate! I love watching their antics, whether it’s a pair during mating season or young birds being what I can only refer to as goofy. Because they are one of the preferred quarry of hawks, quail are extremely wary and will flush and fly into dense vegetation whenever something startles them. The males will stand sentry at a high point, watching over the covey and alerting them to any dangers they see. Quail are in our garden year-round and roost within the dense branches of conifers or arbor vitaes. You will generally see them on the ground near bird feeders, scratching the surface to find fallen seeds. However, if you have a feeder with a large enough platform, they’ll fly up there, too. They have a penchant for nibbling on tender young plants so I usually have to cover them with bird netting until the plants are large enough to fend for themselves. They particularly like sunflower, lettuce and pea seedlings.

Both parents care for the young and coveys will care for chicks other than their own in a cooperative effort. The sweetest thing I’ve ever seen (twice now) is evident in this video: a male quail will spread its wings to let young chicks take a nap under them and to protect them from cold, wet weather. Take a look:

This video shows a male California quail standing sentry above a covey, while a young “teenager” quail preens in front of him:

And this last video shows a covey scratching for seeds underneath a feeder:

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