A popular game bird in the American Southwest, Gambel's Quail¿sometimes called the Arizona Quail, Desert Quail, or Valley Quail¿is a favorite of hunters and suburban dwellers alike. Its jaunty plumed topknot, carried by both sexes, its gregarious nature, and its distinctive gathering calls all make for ready identification. Few if any desert birds are better known, and this logo of the Arizona Game and Fish Department symbolizes the Sonoran Desert almost as much as the saguaro cactus and gila monster.
The Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, is the bird's metropolis, with the species extending into all contiguous states. Like its relatives¿the California (Callipepla californica), Elegant (C. douglasii), and Scaled (C. squamata) quails¿Gambel's Quail tends to run and hide in dense undergrowth rather than fly when pursued. And like other quail, it is a gregarious bird that forms family coveys, which in turn may form large winter aggregations containing several dozen birds. More than 90% of this species' diet is composed of plant parts, particularly legumes.
A "boom-and-bust" species, Gambel's Quail reproductive rates fluctuate markedly from year to year depending on the amount of green feed available in the spring. Population levels are therefore strongly influenced by the amounts of winter-spring rainfall; dry years yield few young birds. As a consequence, population levels in any given year may vary from low to very abundant depending on habitat quality, past population levels, carryover, and the current year's reproductive success. The mean life expectancy of a Gambel's Quail is only about 1.5 years.
Even though this species was studied intensively between 1930 and 1970, much remains to be learned about Gambel's Quail, especially the effects of the following: water development and livestock-grazing on survival and reproduction; late-season hunting on overwintering mortality; changes in nonnative annual vegetation on the bird's reproductive cycle; increases in range fires on population levels; and competition with other quail species on population dynamics;. Breeding behavior also needs more study. Furthermore, little is known about variation in Gambel's Quail social systems under different environmental conditions.
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