Ocellated Quail Cyrtonyx ocellatus

  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Odontophoridae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Jack C. Eitniear, Claudia I. Rodríguez-Flores, Carlos A. Soberanes-González, and Marîa del Coro Arizmendi


  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Ocellated Quail
eBird range map for Ocellated Quail

Generated from eBird observations (Year-Round, 1900-present)

Distribution in the Americas

Ocellated Quail is resident from southern Mexico south through Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to Nicaragua.


Occurs from southeastern Oaxaca into Chiapas, although there are relatively few sightings within the past few decades. Historically a number of specimens were collected in Oaxaca (the majority in the 1960s), near the more coastal areas of Cerro Baul and Tapanatepec at elevations of 1000 - 2000 m in regions composed of tropical evergreen and cloud forest as well as humid pine-oak. While areas of human habitation are some distance away, the rural areas are populated by Mixteca Indians. The pine-oak canyons are inhospitable, so likely continue to provide some sanctuary for the quail, but verification that the species is extant in this area, at the periphery of the species range, is required. In Chiapas, Howell (1999) observed Ocellated Quail near Chanal. However, members of the NGO PRONATURA: Chiapas studying Golden- cheeked Warblers (Setophaga chrysoparia) have yet to confirm the species presence within the pine-oak forest of the region (Claudia Macias Caballero in litt.).

El Salvador

Museum collections contain five specimens collected in El Salvador near Chalatenango in 1927 (Dickey and van Rossem 1938). More recently, the quail was not found at any of five areas with suitable habitat that were surveyed for Golden-cheeked Warbler (O. Komar, personal communication). Using available information it was not possible to verify the species presence in the country during the last half a century. The amount of habitat is minimal and it is likely that landscape alteration, due to increased numbers of people in the highland region, as well as a prolonged civil war, mean the species is present in very low numbers, if at all.


Ocellated Quail has been recorded recently in four Important Bird Areas (IBAs) . The species is not known to be common anywhere in Guatemala, but suitable habitat has certainly been under-surveyed. A total of 3370 km2 of conifer and mixed forest (39% of potential quail habitat in Guatemala) are included in the Guatemalan IBA network. Recent sightings in pine oak forest along the Pacific coast have been made At Cerro de Siju, Totonicapan, near Antigua at Finca Filadelfia and near Copan at Finca Rubel Chain


While Ocellated Quail occasionally has been observed in the pine forests of Chiapas, Mexico and in suitable highland areas in Guatemala, the best opportunity to view the quail is in Honduras. During a 2002 bird inventory ornithologists Mark Bonta and David Anderson reported multiple sightings at Toro Muerto near Botaderos in northern Olancho. Subsequent to that observation the species was also observed in north eastern Olancho, in the municipalities of Gualaco and San Esteban. There, small groups of 4 - 6 individuals, have been observed throughout the day in mature pine-oak forest with open, grassy understory at 600 - 1000 m as well as along the entrance road to Parque Nacional La Muralla (15º 04' 45.71" N, 86º 45' 31.59" W). Most recently the species has been observed at Cerro de Hula (13º 56’27.9” N, 87º 14’29.1” W) and nearby Montana de Izopo.


The inclusion of Nicaragua in the range of Ocellated Quail long was based on a specimen collected by W.B. Richardson (Salvin and Godman, 1897-1904) in Jalapa around the turn of the last century. The only recent observation was by Francisco Munos in a personal communication to Birdlife International (S. Butchart personal communication). Munos mentioned observing more than 30 individuals in the Important Bird Area (IBA) in the Dipilto- Jalapa Mountain Range. However, according to Nicaraguan bird specialist Juan Carlos Martinez- Sánchez, Dipilto-Jalapa is a mountain range that runs parallel to the Nicaraguan-Honduras border that has the highest elevations in Nicaragua (up to 2106 m), where cloud forest and highland pine forest overlap. Little forest remains, according to Mártinez-Sanchez, most of it has been either exploited, transformed in coffee plantations, even corn fields. Some forest remains in areas mined during the Contra war, or covering steep slopes and poor soils (Juan Carlos Martinez-Sanchez, personal communication).

Distribution outside the Americas

Endemic to the Americas. Not held in any captive collections.


Ocellated Quail inhabits open forests of oak and pine, shrubland, and heavily relies on the bulbs and tubers and a large number of herbs, mainly oxalids (Oxalis). Generally found between 750 - 3050 m, but habitat dependent.

Historical changes

Numerous specimens collected from southern Mexico suggest that it formerly was more widespread and abundant (Eitniear and Eisermann 2009).

Fossil history

Cyrtonyx were found in Pleistocene of San Josecito Cavern in Aramberri, Nuevo León, Mexico. Specimen of Cyrtonyx cooki from Sioux Co., NE, originally dated to middle Miocene (about 16 mybp), may be much younger, about 7–9 mybp  (Stromberg 2000).

Recommended Citation

Eitniear, J. C., C. I. Rodríguez-Flores, C. A. Soberanes-González, and M. d. C. Arizmendi (2014). Ocellated Quail (Cyrtonyx ocellatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.ocequa1.01