Arizonans have the privilege of hunting three species of quail – four, if the new California quail found along the Little Colorado River drainage in Apache County are included. These are the Gambel’s quail, scaled quail, and Mearns’ or Montezuma quail. Another quail, formerly in Arizona, the masked bobwhite, is listed federally as an endangered species.
Of the above species, the Gambel’s or desert quail is by far the best known.
Found in most of the state’s counties, these birds are often hunted in open desert country where they are more apt to run or flush than hold for a dog. The Gambel’s jaunty, plumed topknot, carried by both sexes, make for ready identification, along with the male’s bright russet cap, black face and bib, and cream-colored belly marked with a black horseshoe. As with all species of quail, the young of the year can be distinguished through their first winter by their spotted secondary wing converts. Adult males average only about 6 ounces; the slightly smaller females between 5.7 and 5.9 ounces.
The handsome – rather than gaudy – scaled quail is the second most commonly encountered quail in Arizona. A bird of the open country of eastern Arizona, this quail too is more likely to run than hold. Both sexes of this species display white, conical crests, hence the common name of “cottontop.” The scaled appellation is appropriate, however, as the birds possess a distinctive scalloping on the breast, nape and belly. Otherwise, their overall color is tan above with a mixture of beige, grays, and whites below. A generally bigger bird that the Gambel’s quail, adult male “scalies” average about 7.3 ounces, females 6.7 ounces.
Mearns’ quail are the largest and most striking yet also the most secretive of Arizona’s quail. Male Mearns’ quail have white and black harlequin-marked heads, capped by a russet shock of feathers that form an ill-fitting crest. These cock quail also possess handsome brown and black checkered backs interlaced with white darts, and white-spotted black flanks similar to a guinea fowl’s. Their breast and underparts are a rich mahogany that turns to black at the rump, which terminates in a stubby, almost non-existent tail. The hens are cinnamon colored with brown, black and buff markings. In winter, the males average about 6.9 ounces, the females about 6.2 ounces. Long, scythe-shaped claws that are used for digging show that these birds are ground-dwellers, and they hold so well to a dog that this species has come to be known as Arizona’s greatest game bird.
Page content © April 2008 Hunt Arizona 2008. Published by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Information and Education Division, Information Branch, Publication Section.