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California Quail: Characteristics, Traits and Care Tips for Quail Keepers

California Quail

You might mistake this California quail for the Gambels due to its teardrop-shaped plumes protruding from the forehead, white and brown marks, and feather patches.

But this quail breed has distinctive features that set it apart from ordinary quails.

It is the state bird of California, and it’s known for its role in several Walt Disney movies like Bambi.

But what makes this breed unique, and is it worth adding to your flock?

In this comprehensive guide to the California quail breed, we’ll share with you:

  • The distinctive features and qualities of California Valley quails
  • Where do California quail live and nest
  • How many eggs can they produce, and when do they lay their tiny eggs

Whether you’re a quail enthusiast looking to add Califonia quails to your collection or a newbie quail owner or homesteader looking for good quail options, this will be helpful for you.

So, What is a California Quail?

The California Quail, or California Valley Quail, is a plump, short-tailed tiny game bird in the New World Quail family that dwells in the ground. They are scientifically called Callipepla Californica.

Their plumage has unique features, beautiful colors, and patterns that distinguish them from other quails.

This round, handsome bird only grows from 9.8 to 10.6 inches in length and weighs only 0.5 to 0.6 pounds. 

California quails have an empathetic call, chi-ca-go, which sounds similar to Gambel’s quail but lower-pitched by around three notes. Sometimes, they shorten it to two or one syllable or produce grunts and sharp cackles.

As mentioned earlier, this breed also looks similar to Gambel quails. But what does California quail look like?

Let’s dig in deeper to find out more. 

Female California Quail and Male California Quail

California Quails’ Physical Characteristics

The California Valley Quail has a fully rounded body shape, a small head and beak, and a short neck. 

They also have broad but short wings that measure up to 12.6 to 14.6 inches and equally squared and long tails.

Their size is between the size of a Robin and a crow for both sexes. 

An adult male California quail has rich gray and brown breast plumage, plus black outlined with white stripes face and a more curled crest. 

On the other hand, females have mostly brown plumage and don’t have white markings on their faces.

Both sexes have bluish-gray, white, or light-yellow and rust-colored patch feathers on their bellies outlined with dark color. It looks like pretty belly scales that create an iridescent illusion. 

What is the California Quail Known For?

Like Gambel quails, California Valley quail boasts a comma-shaped topknot feather that faces down forward from its forehead.

But what makes it distinct from Gambel’s quail? Well, California Valley quails have scaled underparts and brown sides and crowns.

And California quail bird’s overlapping plume looks like a single feather, but if you look closer, it consists of six overlapping feathers. Males’ topknots are visibly longer than females, and their colors are more pronounced. 

What Does California Valley Quail Eat?

Like other quails, California quails are omnivores, and they feed on a variety of foods like berries, grains, seeds, flowers, leaves, and catkins.

But how do these creatures digest leafy greens or vegetation? Well, it’s all thanks to the protozoan in their intestines.

But how do they acquire it? Chicks get the protozoans from the feces of the adults through pecking.

They can also eat insects and invertebrates like caterpillars, beetles, snails, and millipedes. 

Most of their foods can be found in the open ground. That’s why they can stay on the ground for many hours.

They also need water, especially during heat seasons. But in winter and spring, they get the water on succulents and insects.

How Long Do California Quails Live?

Generally, California Valley quails can only live between three to five years, depending on their genetics, environment, and diet.

But the oldest recorded California quail in the wild is six years and eleven months old.

Quail roaming around

Behavioral Characteristics of California Quail

California quail behave differently when casually doing everyday activities, like searching for food and laying eggs.

They are very sociable birds that love moving around with a bunch of birds called Coveys while foraging on the ground. 

Because they mostly stay on the ground for a couple of hours, they like running more than flying. But, when predators approach, they fly just a short distance to avoid them.

On the other hand, when they are in their nestling period, hens usually do an “egg dumping.” This refers to the hens’ habit of laying eggs on the other nest.

California Quail Habitat

California quails are everywhere. You may find them in your backyard, scrub landscapes, a valley, and open woodland near water sources.

They can be found where food is present, like grains, insects, fruits, and many others.

If you want to attract them to your backyard, simply sprinkle some grain or seeds on the ground or a quail feeder and provide a dense shrubbery nearby where they can roost and cover. 

Where Do California Quail Live?

California quails are mostly found on the West or Pacific Coast of the United States, which includes the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Some of them are from Canada and Mexico.

Where Do California Quail Nest?

Unlike other birds, California quails usually build their nest on the ground, under a brush pile or scrub, or any log with a cover. And their nests (built by females) are typically shallow depressions lined with some grass and leaves. 

Sometimes they nest above ground, but they don’t build it. Instead, they will use the nest of other birds.

California Quail’s Laying and Breeding Habits

When the breeding season starts, male California quails loudly call to disclose their territory. 

Then their courtship starts by drooping their wings, spreading their tails, bobbing their head, and rushing to the female.

When laying starts, sometimes, two females lay their eggs in one nest. Then the incubation begins and lasts up to 18 to 23 days until they hatch.

Now let’s see how often they lay eggs when these birds start laying and how many eggs they can produce.

How Often Do California Quails Lay Eggs?

The hens of this breed can lay eggs almost daily, averaging three eggs within four days. It’s not a lot, but California quail eggs are rich in protein and vitamin D, so every bite offers a bunch of nutrients. 

When Do California Quail Start Laying Eggs?

A female California Valley quail can start laying when they reach six weeks old. And then, they can finally lay during or after the breeding season from late April up to early May.

How Many Eggs Can California Quails Lay?

A California quail hen can produce around 12 to 16 eggs within the laying period. However, only 1 to 2 eggs can be successfully hatched and turned into little ones.

California quail eggs are usually dull white to pale buff with tiny brown marks or patches.

The female California Valley quails are in charge of incubating their eggs for 18 to 23 days. But both males and females tend to their young ones’ needs.

Where Can I Buy a California Quail

Hunting for California quails in the wild is legal but requires license, time, and skill. Since they’re inexpensive and widely available, buying quails from bird breeders would be easier. 

If you live in California, it should be easy to find these birds. But if no California Valley quail is available in your local breeders, try visiting these hatcheries:

They sell California quail chicks and eggs at an affordable price. However, the availability may vary, so you need to watch out for the hatch dates or contact them in advance so they can notify you when they’re available.  

It’s worth noting that McMurray Hatchery sells unsexed Califonia quails in bulk (100 chicks per transaction). 

California Quail Price

The California quail chicks’ price may vary depending on the age and quality, but it typically ranges from $1 to $5.

If you’d order online, expect to spend more money than from your trusted local pet shops or quail breeders. 

Aside from saving a considerable cost, buying from local breeders also allows you to invest in birds more adapted to your area. 

Raising California Quail

Raising California Quail: Top Tips for a Happier Bird

Providing California Quail’s Basic Needs

California Valley quals are not domesticated birds. But if you might want to keep them as a pet or raise them for meat and eggs, here are some basic care tips you need to know to keep them happy and healthy.

Comfortable Shelter

Every domestic animal, even birds, needs shelter where they can live, especially when the climate is unstable.

Although California Valley quails don’t need it, a secure shelter will keep them safe from predators. You need it to ensure they can’t leave your premises and fly back where they used to stay.

Beginners might hesitate to confine their quails in a cage or coop. But luckily, California Valley quails can perfectly adjust to their environment so they can survive.

How much space does California Quail need?

Since California quails are small birds, they don’t require a lot of space. One square foot will be enough per quail. Other homesteaders prefer to put them in a cage instead of in coops.

Why? Aside from consuming less time preparing, it can also save money in buying materials.

But if you want to provide more space for them, you can also build or DIY a quail coop.

Spacious Flight Pen

Other people raise California quails just to release them in the wild when they grow up. So, they built a flight pen to train the quails to fly after they hatched.

If you have the same goal as them and don’t mind the expenses, you can build at least 15 to 20 square feet of flight pen. But it depends on how many quails you want to raise.

The flight pen should be relatively large to let your quails feel free while developing their wings and practicing flying.

But if you want to keep them as pets, spending money and building large flight pens is unnecessary as long as they have enough space.

Top Quality Quail Food

California Valley quails in the wild usually feed on annual weeds, seeds, leaves, fresh shoots, berries, flowers, bulbs, and insects.

They get these foods by foraging on the ground and picking fruits and leaves from plants.

If those foods aren’t available, you can offer your quail a variety of grains, seeds, and fruits to your pet quail.

But you need to ensure you provide the best quality of quail feed and diet to keep them healthy and strong body despite captivity.

Quail Toys

Since California quails love being in a group, they might find it boring and stressful when they are alone.

Even if they have company in a cage, they might feel lonely, especially if you have curious little California quail chicks.

And that’s where quail bird toys come in handy. They’re effective in reducing their sadness and stress.

Nestling Boxes

In the wild, California quails are responsible for building their nest for their eggs. But they can’t do that if they are in a cage or a shelter, especially if you don’t let them out.

So, the nestling boxes will greatly help them when they start laying. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can use recycled cardboard or wood and put dried grass or leaves on it.

And the nesting box doesn’t need to be big because California quails are small birds.

However, nestling boxes do not guarantee that the quails will lay eggs in the same place.

Care Tips for Laying Quails

A mother California quail should have a secure nestling house or box to protect its eggs from predators for a successful incubation.

Next, their housing space should be enough so they won’t feel confined and avoid stress.

You should also put hay or dried grass on their housing because it is their behavior that they will create a nest before laying.

Then, you should also ensure they’re in a quiet place so the mother’s quail will not be disturbed while incubating.

And lastly, give enough daylight to help them incubate faster and provide the right food for laying quails.

Feeding California quail with highly-nutritious quail food can help them have stronger shells and better egg production.

Are California Quails Endangered?

No, California quails aren’t at risk of extinction. The species is not globally threatened, even if the numbers in some US states decrease due to industrialization.

That’s why the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or IUCN Red List listed it as “Least Concern.” 

Pros and Cons of Raising California Quails 

To sum it up, here is a list of the pros and cons of raising California quail birds that will help you determine if they’re worth adding to your collection. 

Pros & Cons of Raising California Quails

Pros
  • Easiest quail to raise
  • Low maintenance
  • Aesthetic plumage
  • Requires minimal space
  • It can help you relax
Cons
  • Small meat
  • Can be noisy
  • Easily disturbed when laying
  • It might lay in different spots
  • Only 1 or 2 eggs will be hatch

Frequently Asked Questions About California Quails

Are California quail good to eat?

Eating state birds like California quail is very popular, especially for Native Americans.

It has a super rich, slightly gamey taste and is perfect for serving with complete seasonings and spices.

Are California quails rare?

California quails are common but often hidden and overlooked.

They’re also not endangered or threatened, meaning the numbers are stable and abundant.

How long does it take for California quail to mature?

This quail breed reaches full sexual maturity and enters its laying period at six weeks of age.

What season do California quail lay eggs?

California quail birds usually produce eggs during summer, between April and May. This breed lays about three eggs daily but spaced out between four days.

Who eats California quail?

Bobcats, squirrels, coyotes, great horned owls, snakes, skunks, and domestic cats often prey on California quails in the wild, but humans are the main predators.

Are California quail hard to raise?

California quails are among the easiest to raise quails. They only need at least 1 square foot of elbow room for each.

But if you don’t want to confine these birds in such tiny spaces, a bigger aviary would be better and can make them happier.

How do you attract California quail?

The easiest way to attract this bird to your yard is by sprinkling grain or birdseed on the ground or feeders and providing a dense shrubbery nearby for shade and cover.

Putting quail blocks and trees like acacia and mesquite can also help.

What plants does California quail like?

Aside from acacia and mesquite, this bird species also like cacti, brittlebush, and yucca.

Where does California quail sleep?

Most California quails roost and sleep on a tree or post at night to avoid danger from ground-based predators.

Do California quail fly?

Yes, this plump, short-necked game bird can fly with its short yet broad wings. Even young California quails can fly short distances at the age of 10 days, while adult, full-grown ones can reach 100 yards or 91 meters. 

When do California quail breed?

California quail’s breeding season starts in late April and ends in early May. They then start laying tiny eggs with brown marks and patches.

Are California quail protected?

Although this quail breed is not endangered, they’re protected by the Fish and Game Code, section 3200.

This law requires a Domestic Game Breeder’s license for those who want to keep Domesticated game birds like California Valley quail.

California Valley Quail 

Is California Quail A Good Pet: Our Final Thoughts

California quails are an excellent addition to a quail collection not just because of their distinct plumage patterns and teardrop-shaped crown.

This bird breed is also easy to raise and requires minimal sleeping area, so it’s perfect for the newbies in poultry keeping.

The numbers have declined in some US states, but it’s currently listed as Least Concern. So, it shouldn’t be hard for you to find a California quail.

But if you’re looking for other quail options, check out the quail breed below.

READ NEXT: Button Quail: Characteristics, Care & Health

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