Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail

Callipepla Squamata

Scaled Quail, also known as Blue Quail or cotton-top quail, is a New World quail, which makes it a member of the Odontophoridae family.

What Does Scaled Quail Look Like?

Adults are tan with alternating dark and light grayscale patterns on their necks and chests. Their heads are brown. The brown of their heads transitions to a tan and then white at the peak of their feather top knot. Their backs are grey, and their wings are brown, alternating with tan stripes. Juveniles have similar markings other than they have a shorter top knot.

Adult birds are 10.0 to 12.0 in (25.4 to 30.5 cm) in length and weigh 6.2 to 6.7 oz. (177 to 191 g)

Scaled Quail Range

The scaled quail range in the United States includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. In Mexico they live in Guanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Jalisco, San Luis Potosi, Durango, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Sonora

These birds have also been introduced into Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti. In the continental United States, they have been introduced into Nevada and Washington. Source

Scaled Quail Subspecies

There are four different scaled quail subspecies. Three of these have some population in the United States. The fourth one only lives in Mexico.

  • Altiplano-scaled quail (Callipepla squamata squamata)-Altiplano-scaled quail lives exclusively on the central Mexico plateau.
  • Northern-scaled quail (Callipepla squamata pallida)-The most common subspecies, northern-scaled quail lives in the western Oklahoma panhandle, western Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, west Texas, northern Chihuahua, and Sonora.
  • Upper Sonoran-scaled quail (Callipepla squamata hargravei)-Upper Sonoran-scaled quail is the palest-colored of the four subspecies and lives in the area where Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas meet. It also lives in the Northwestern part of New Mexico.
  • Chestnut-bellied scaled quail (Callipepla squamata castanogastris)- Chestnut-bellied scaled quail live in southern Texas and northern Mexico. They’re distinguished from the other three subspecies by the deep chestnut color of their bellies. Source

Scaled Quail Habitat

Scaled Quail live in semi-arid to arid landscapes where the average annual rainfall is 8 to 15 inches. Pinyon, Juniper, Sand sage, mesquite, prickly pear, and cholla are common in scaled quail habitats.

These birds prefer terrain that is at least semi-open at ground level so that they can use their running ability to escape from predators. When danger approaches, they prefer running over flying. When they’re pressured hard enough, they will fly. Once they have some extra distance, they land and resume running to cover to hide in.


Cover is an essential component of scaled quail habitat and a limiting factor in their population over much of their range. They need adequate cover for roosting, daytime resting, and nesting.

Nesting cover should offer adequate concealment on the sides and from above and have protected escape routes in case of an approach of danger.

Mesquite, Oak brush, Sand sage, sumac, cholla prickly pear, and bunch grasses are all plants that scaled quail use for cover as well as sources of food.


Although scaled Quail obtain the majority of the water they need from their environment, whether that be from dew or the foods they eat, where there is available water they drink every 2 to 3 days.


The items on a scaled quail’s menu vary with the season and what foods are currently available. Their diet contains seeds, green plant material such as leaves and grasses, fruit and flowers from prickly pear and cholla, and insects. From late fall through spring, as much as 70% of their diet will consist of seeds. Some plants that provide seeds for them are kochia, pigweed, snakeweed, sand lily, mesquite, broom weed, sunflower, prickly poppy, tasajillo, croton, and senna.

When it’s available during the spring and summer, their diet shifts to a larger percentage of green leafy material, flowers, and fruits from succulents such as prickly pear and cholla.

In the spring and summer, insects become more readily available and become a more important item in a scaled quail’s menu. Insects provide protein, moisture, and minerals such as calcium, which hens must consume in amounts adequate for proper eggshell development.

Insects are especially important to the diet of developing scaled quail chicks. During the first couple of months, they require a diet that is almost 30% protein. It would be impossible for them to get this from seeds and plant material. Source

Scaled Quail Behavior

Forming Coveys

Scaled Quail are very social, so when available food resources allow them to concentrate their numbers, they join multiple family groups into coveys that can number up to several hundred birds.

Night Time Roosting

Scaled quail roost on the ground tail to tail in a tight circle so that a bird faces every direction to be on the lookout for danger.


Scaled quail breeding season begins in April. Males perch on top of a high vantage point, such as a fence post or a bush, and give their mating call, which consists of a high-pitched squawk or whock. They make this noise repeatedly, especially in the early morning hours. Once they’ve found their mate, they sing less or not at all once they get down to building nests.

To court, their mate males perform displays known as tidbiting, where they peck the ground and erect the feathers on their neck and hips. Additionally, they bob their heads and prance around with high steps.

Females sometimes respond similarly. When they want to indicate their willingness to pair up, the female will respond by crouching low to the ground.


Scaled Quail usually nest by late April. They build their nests in a pit they scratch in the ground approximately 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter and 3 inches (7.62cm) deep, which they line with mixed grass and leaf litter. A typical clutch consists of around 11 eggs.

Sometimes, the male incubates the first clutch while the female builds a second nest and lays an additional clutch, which is generally smaller than the first one.

The incubation period is 22 to 23 days. When the chicks hatch, they’re born with down. They can leave the nest and follow their parents around soon after hatching. Source

Also see:

Montezuma Quail

Northern Bobwhite Quail

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