Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus)

If you ever happen to see one, you will find that Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) are very attractive birds. Commonly found in densely wooded foothills and mountains along the West Coast of the US, these birds are somewhat unique in that they migrate up and down the slopes of the mountains according to the seasons. They are the only bird in the Quail family to perform some form of seasonal migration. The Mountain Quail is also known by several other names including the ‘Painted Quail’, the ‘Mountain Partridge’ and the ‘Plumed Quail’.

Generally speaking, Mountain Quail are fairly large (26-28 cm), distinctive birds. They have a long, straight head plume – sometimes called ‘top knots’ – as well as striking maroon throats set off by a white border. The female’s plume is shorter than the male’s. Their heads and breasts are grey while their bellies are chestnut and marked with bold white bars. The Mountain Quail’s underparts are a brownish-grey while their back and tail might be described as being olive-brown. Both sexes are similar in colour and size and the bird has a fairly chunky body with round wings and a short tail – features which are quite common for a ground-dwelling bird. The bird’s distinctive colouring makes it quite difficult to see in its natural habitat.

Every year between March and June, the Mountain Quail pair off for breeding purposes. The female lays 6-15 eggs in a shallow depression on the ground which may hatch 24-25 days later. The nest is usually concealed by surrounding vegetation and it is usually quite close to water. After only a few hours of breathing clean heart, the downy young leave the nest and are cared for by the parents who direct them to food instead of feeding it to them. The chicks seem to eat more insects than their adult counterparts who seem to prefer plant matter as a means of sustenance. As they mature, Mountain Quail young may congregate in large groups of up to 20 birds.

Though Mountain Quails are capable of moving quickly through the undergrowth, they are a favourite amongst quail hunters and their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past fifty years. However it would seem that this is mainly due to lost of habitat from human development and not from hunting. Hunting of this bird has been banned in places such as Idaho and eastern Oregon and while the bird is not considered to be endangered, efforts have been made to boost Mountain Quail numbers in certain parts of the country.