News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters Country birds

The mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus) is the largest quail in the United States. I found these colourful quail on the shoulders of Mt. Jefferson, and while waiting for a good opportunity to capture an image from my truck, had one sitting on a log staring at me and he did not blink for 40 minutes.

In foothills and mountains of the far west, coveys of these striking birds scurry through the manzanita thickets. Mountain quail are often overlooked, because they keep to dense cover; when approached, they often sit motionless in the brush, where they are very difficult to spot. The nest is a simple scrape made by the male, concealed in vegetation, often at the base of a tree and usually close to water. Breeding among mountain quail is monogamous and the female lays 8-15 creamy pinkish eggs. Incubation lasts 21-25 days, usually performed by the female, rarely by the male. The chicks begin feeding immediately, with insects being the majority of their diet until they slowly add vegetation.

They have a wide variety of foraging techniques. They often pick up items from the ground, scratching among leaf litter and use their feet to dig for bulbs, also they climb in shrubs and trees to pick berries.

Although their secretive nature makes it difficult to accurately census, they have clearly experienced a great decline in the past 50 years in parts of their range.

A group of quails has many collective nouns, including a “battery,” “drift,” “flush,” “rout,” and “shake” of quails.

To view more images of the mountain quail, please visit my website and enjoy the small things: A Bird Sings.


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