Oreortyx pictusmountain quail

Geographic Range

Mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus) are found in the mountains of western Northern America. There are also desert populations found in the mountains of eastern California. Mountain quail are found from the Cascade mountain range to the mountains of central California. There have been some species introduced to British Columbia in Canada as well as in Washington state.

Mountain quail are non-migratory, but some mountain species have been known to migrate during the winter. They are only found in Washington, Oregon, California and some parts of Nevada (as well as Canada, but they are not native to that area). (US Fish and Wildlife Service, N/A)


Mountain quail typically live in geographic ranges that are between 610 to 3,050 m (2,000 and 10,000 ft) above sea level. They prefer heavy ground cover, so typically are found in areas such as chaparral or woodland forests. Their secretive nature helps them hide in their habitat under bushes and other low cover. This makes their habitat almost unseen and impenetrable to predators).

A dense tree canopy and steep slopes were found to be important aspects of mountain quail habitat. The dense ground cover is a vital part of their lives, and helps them find food. (Johnsgard, 2008)

  • Range elevation
    600 to 3050 m
    1968.50 to 10006.56 ft

Physical Description

Mountain quail are large, stout, round-bodied birds that are typically grey, white, and reddish brown in color. However, younger quails are not as colorful. Mountain quail have plumage with two small, sharp-looking protrusions coming from their heads. These can be compared to the feathers in a quill pen. The quill-like feathers are also smaller in female quails than in males. Mountain quail live on the ground. They typically occupy mountainous regions that are covered with densely packed shrubs for cover.

There are 5 different subspecies of mountain quail, and each have slightly different color appearances. The latin names are O. p. plumifer (No common name), O. p. russelli, (Pallid Mountain Quail) O. p. eremophilus (Desert Mountain Quail) and O. p. confinis (Southern Mountain Quail). Southern and pallid mountain quails are more brown in color whereas the desert mountain subspecies is more gray. The mountain quail, Oreortyx pictus, are also the largest quail species found in North America. Also, when the plumage of mountain quail is pointing backwards it means they are relaxed. When the plumage is pointing straight up, it means they are angry or alert to their surroundings.


Every year between March and June mountain quail find mates and break off as pairs. They use wing and tail displays for courtship before they breed. Mountain quail have a monogamous relationship each year when it comes to breeding. It has been observed that females lay a clutch of about 9 or 10 eggs. Females typically lay their eggs close to the bases of trees or shrubs for protection and added coverage.

Typically, eggs are laid close to water. Eggs are incubated anywhere from 20 to 26 days, and mothers are usually the ones to stay with their eggs. It is rare that the males stay around to help females incubate eggs.

Upon birth, chicks are precocial. This means they are born in an advanced state, where they are able to feed themselves almost immediately after hatching. Parents direct them to the food, but they feed themselves rather than being fed. They tend to leave the nests with their mother and father within hours of hatching.

Mountain quail take short explosive flights and move their wings rapidly when in danger. They are not very gregarious. As mountain quail mature they live in groups of about 20. They try to be secretive in their habitats to stay away from predators. They are difficult to observe in the wild because they are usually seen only feeding or laying low. Courting males have been seen walking back and forth in front of female. Females that are courting have been seen crouching to display subordination to males.

  • Range eggs per season
    9 to 10
  • Range time to hatching
    20 to 26 days

Females incubate their eggs for 20 to 26 days. Though chicks are born precocial, they remain with their parents. Parents guide them to food until they are fully ready to be independent.


Numbers of mountain quail have declined due to habitat loss from human development, though not from hunting. They have a short lifespan and most only live to be about 3 years old.


Mountain quail take short explosive flights, and move their wings very rapidly when in danger. They are not very gregarious. As they mature they live in groups of about 20. They are secretive within their habitats in order to stay away from predators. They are difficult to observe in the wild because they are mostly seen feeding or laying low. Courting males have been seen walking back and fourth in front of females. Females that are courting have been seen crouching to display subordination to males.

Home Range

All five of the mountain quail subspecies are very territorial. They do not leave their respective stretches of land unless food sources run low or they are chased out by predators. They are diurnal, but have been reported to be active nocturnally.

Communication and Perception

Mountain quail communicate with calls. They give calls when they are separated for the rest of their group. The sounds they make are typically one second long, and they can make that same sound about 10 times in a row to signal to the rest of their group.

Mountain quail are very loud, and their sounds echo off mountain walls to make them sound bigger and louder than they really are. Their calls sound almost like a whistle or a squeak.

Food Habits

The diet of mountain quail can vary between seasons, and depends a lot upon what is available. They eat a large amount of seeds and acorns, and they also sometimes eat other things like berries and flowers. Mountain quail are omnivores, meaning they eat vegetables and animals. If available the mountain quail will eat small insects or even fungi.

When it comes to finding food, mountain quail are foragers. They usually get most of their food by collecting things that have fallen on the ground. They have been seen to jump into shrubs to collect berries. Mountain quail walk slowly, and scratch with their feet to move leaves out of the way while searching for food. In summer their diet can change, and they switch to eating more beetles and ants. (Kaufman, 2020)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


In the 1800s a large group of mountain quail was released into the mountains in Canada, where they lived for more than 100 years. However, by 1990 the entire population was extirpated.

The main cause of decline in mountain quail populations is from humans building and destroying the areas they inhabit. Weed invasions also hurt the population of mountain quail. Common house cats and owls are the most harsh predators for mountain quail. (Kaufman, 2020)

Ecosystem Roles

Vegetative habitats are used only when available. In a typical mountain quail ecosystems there are 9 to 30 birds per habitat. Those with larger numbers in their habitat tend to go to the areas with more vegetation and that have greater shrub densities. The dense tree canopy and steep slopes are a critical part of their ecosystems. (Brennan, et al., 1987)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Mountain quail play an important role when it comes to economic importance because they diversify agriculture. Quail farming is also important because it plays a key role in the “livestock sub-sector” of the economy. Quail serve as domesticated poultry eaten in Nigeria, so the species as a whole is very important to the economy.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Mountain quail have no known negative economic or health impacts on humans.

Conservation Status

There has been a decline in mountain quail caused from human impact alone. There is also decline in the populations due to habitat change by grazing, fires and water extraction. In the year 2000 there was a petition filed to label mountain quail as an endangered species. The changing plant composition from humans has been a major cause of population declines, so there are now conservation efforts to protect important shrubs in their native areas. The conservation of native shrubs will help protect the livelihood of mountain quail. In Washington they are at the extreme edge of their range, and more are being introduced to keep the population from declining. Their numbers have declined due to habitat loss from human development, not from hunting. Mountain quail are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


Lyndsay Moore (author), California State University, San Marcos, Tracey Brown (editor), California State University, San Marcos, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


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Davis, M. 2019. "Mountain Quail" (On-line). All About Birds. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mountain_Quail/overview.

Johnsgard, P. 2008. Grouse and Quails of North America. 21 Mountain Quail, 23: 343-355. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=bioscigrouse.

Kaufman, K. "Mountain Quail" (On-line). Audubon. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/mountain-quail.

Kaufman, K. 2020. "Mountain Quail" (On-line). Audubon. Accessed March 01, 2020 at www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/ mountain-quail..

Lisson, R. 2019. "MOUNTAIN QUAIL – AN UPLAND GAME BIRD PROFILE" (On-line). Project Upland. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://projectupland.com/mountain-quail-hunting/mountain-quail-an-upland-game-bird-profile/.

N/A, "Mountain Quail" (On-line). Classic Collection of North American Birds. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://www.birds-of-north-america.net/Mountain_Quail.html.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020. Quail. Quail.

Troy, R., P. Coates. 2013. Survival of mountain quail translocated from two distinct source populations. Journal of Wildlife Management, 77/5: 1031-1037. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70072688.

US Fish and Wildlife Service, N/A. "Mountain Quail" (On-line). Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office. Accessed February 18, 2019 at https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489447.

Winter, K. 2002. "Mountain Quail" (On-line). California Partners in Flight Coastal Scrub and Chaparral Bird Conservation Plan. Accessed February 18, 2020 at http://www.prbo.org/calpif/htmldocs/species/scrub/mountain_quail.htm.

Writer, S. 2006. "On the Mountain Quail Trail" (On-line). Clearwater Region. Accessed February 18, 2020 at https://idfg.idaho.gov/press/mountain-quail-trail.