Ocellated Quail is a small, plump quail with a bushy crest on the back of the head. The bill is short and robust, with a slightly curved maxilla. The plumage generally is gray, brown and cinnamon. The male has a bold harlequin like pattern on the head: the throat and face are white, with two triangular black stripes on the sides of the head, and a black stripe down the center of the throat. The upperparts otherwise are more or less brown, streaked with cinnamon rufous. The center of the breast is tawny cinnamon, becoming cinnamon rufous on the belly. The sides of the breast are gray, boldly spotted with buff; the flanks are gray, broadly scalloped with buff. The female is much duller, and is mostly brown. The head pattern of the female is somewhat similar to that of the male, but in brown and brownish white, rather than black and white. The upperparts are brown, with narrow buff and black streaks; the underparts are tawny, with narrow whitish streaks.
Ocellated Quail is very similar to Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae), but in Montezuma Quail the flanks more spotted. Ocellated Quail is particularly similar to the southern subspecies of Montezuma Quail (sallei and rowleyi, sometimes recognized as a separate species, Spot-bellied or Salle's Quail Cyrtonyx sallei). Male Ocellated Quail can be distinguished from its closest relative by the buff (note white) spotting to the sides of the breast, tawnier (less chestnut) center to the breast, darker chestnut posterior flank spots, and chestnut streaking on the back.
Crested Bobwhite (Colinus cristatus) lacks the black and white pattern on the face, has a smaller, more erect crest, and when startled, prefers to escape by running away; Ocellated Quail usually crouches to the ground rather than fleeing on foot, and then flushes only at close range.
The following description is based on Blake (1977); see also Ridgway and Friedmann (1946):
Adult male: Crown and nape buffy brown to olive brown. Thick crest on rear crown and nape, tawny. Forecrown and lores black, broadly bordered laterally with white. There also is a black line from the lores extending up and back above the eye, bordering the crown; continuous with this is a broader blackish slate line along the sides of the face below the auriculars, expanding posteriorly. Also a blackish stripe beginning below the eye, expanding posteriorly on the auriculars. Otherwise the sides of the head and neck are white. Throat white, with a black median stripes. Back, rump and feathers that cover upperwing coverts gray and brown stripped with cinnamon and spotted with black, fading to chestnut stripes and black spots posteriorly. Breast tawny cinnamon; sides of breast gray, boldly spotted with tawny cinnamon or buff. Belly dark reddish cinnamon. Flanks gray, broadly scalloped with cinnamon rufous. Vent black.
Adult female: Thick crest on nape, tawny color. Crown brown spotted black. Area around and behind the eye buff. Cheeks and sides of head tawny with black stripes. Back, rump and feathers that cover upper-wings brown with buff lines and stretch marks. Breast and belly vinaceous with black bars and spots, especially on sides of chest.
Immature: Similar to female; but juvenile male has more white on neck, and little black on belly.
Very little information. Juvenile, First Basic, and definitive molts probably similar to those of Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae) but require further study (Stromberg 2000).
Iris: dark brown
Bill: black, tomia pale blue
Tarsi and toes: light blue; claws horn
Bare parts color data from Dickey and van Rossem (1938).
Total length: 20.5-23 cm (Howell and Webb 1995)
Linear measurements (from Ridgway and Friedmann 1946):
male (n = 15)
wing length: mean 123. mm (range 114-130 mm)
tail length: mean 53.0 mm (range 48.0-57.5 mm)
bill length (culmen from base): mean 16.1 mm (range 15.1-17.5 mm)
tarsus length: mean 32.1 mm (range 30.4-33.2 mm)
middle toe without claw: mean 22.5 mm (range 21.0-24.3 mm)
female (n = 9)
wing length: mean 115.7 mm (range 110.5-119.5 mm)
tail length: mean 48.8 mm (range 45.0-55.5 mm)
bill length (culmen from base): mean 15.6 mm (range 15.1-16.7 mm)
tarsus length: mean 30.9 mm (range 28.9-32.0 mm)
middle toe without claw: mean 22.0 mm (range 20.4-23-6 mm)
Mass: male, estimated mass 218 g; female, estimated mass 182 g (Johnsgard 1988)