Gambel's Quail

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Scientific name: Callipepla gambelii

Other common names: Arizona Topknot Quail

The basics:
The dapper Gambel's Quail is the familiar “Arizona Topknot” of the American Southwest, with small populations extending into northern Mexico. These ground-nesting birds are a hardy desert species that are often seen in scrubby areas that include a waterhole or another water source. They have even been observed using the drip from park water fountains. With the proper licenses, Gambel's Quail may be raised for hunting, meat, or for ornamental birds, so check with your local wildlife office to see what the requirements will be for owning these beautiful birds.

There are two species of western quail with forward-drooping teardrop shaped crests, California Quail, and its close relative, Gambel's Quail. Both adult males have black crests and similar faces with chestnut crowns, white “eyebrows,” and black throats. However, you will easily notice the black belly patch on Gambel's, as opposed to the chestnut belly patch on California. Females of both species look like a faded version of their mates, with brown topknots and not nearly as well patterned faces. However, you can be confident of your identification because California Quail always have scaled feathers on their underparts. Gambel's Quail has streaked markings instead.

Average weight:
156 - 184 grams (5.5 - 6.5 oz.)

7 years

While the Gambel's Quail is undeniably a tough desert bird, they are at risk for various poultry diseases, especially if bred in large numbers. You should consult with a knowledgeable veterinarian, since vaccinations and other treatments can prevent a number of problems. Diseases that impact them include Quail Bronchitis, Ulcerative Enteritis, Quail Pox, and Coccidiosis, as well as various worms that may attack any ground-nesting species.

Behavior / temperament:
If you have previous experience with Old World Quail, you may be pleasantly surprised at the New World Quail's ability to form coveys, which allows you to have flocks that contain more than one adult male. However, any adult male quail is capable of being aggressive in breeding season, so make sure your Gambel's Quail have plenty of room, perches, cover, and feeders for all. It is advisable to introduce new birds during the winter months, when the coveys would naturally form in the wild. Don't add new birds during breeding season, or they could be attacked by your older birds.

Housing / diet:
How you house your Gambel's Quail depends on their purpose. Birds raised for meat, eggs, or exhibition can certainly be housed in cages in a well-ventilated birdroom. Egg producers can control the light to create artificially long days, which causes the female to lay many more eggs than she would normally do. These quail are birds of the warm desert and should be kept warm and dry. They may not be as irascible toward each other as the Old World quail, but you should still provide them with a reasonable amount of space, and do not attempt to house multiple males together in small cages. Also, this species is more nervous than Bobwhites when confined and should be given a generously sized cage to keep them happy.

Some Gambel's Quail today are being raised for hunting programs. These birds will need special pens, with plenty of space and cover, to allow them to acclimate to the weather and to develop their powers of flight. Quail are tasty birds, so they also need to be protected from a large number of predators, from snakes to raccoons to various hawks and eagles. It is strongly recommended that you work with a more advanced hobbyist or even professional breeder to make sure that you are providing a good habitat for your birds. If you free range your birds, learn how from an expert, or else you may just be putting out a food table for your local raptors.

Gambel's Quail are remarkably easy to feed as long as you make sure that these ground-feeding birds have easy access to food and waterers on the floor. The backbone of the diet is usually a non-medicated commercial gamebird starter, which the birds can eat their entire lives, not just as babies. Don't ever consider feeding them on starter crumbles meant for chickens, since the balance of medications, calcium, and protein in chicken feed is all wrong for these quail. However, this species has also been successfully maintained on unmedicated turkey crumbles, if for some reason you don't have the gamebird starter. You can easily supplement the diet with a chopped salad of apples, greens, carrot, broccoli florets, and dry and sprouted seed such as millet or parakeet mix. You may offer them some tiny mealworms or other small insects as well. They should have access to a grit that includes crushed oyster shell or another form of calcium.

Written by Elaine Radford

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