This handsome quail is endemic to northern Central America, from Chiapas and Oaxaca in southern Mexico south through Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to northern Nicaragua. Like its close relative Montezuma Quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae), of the southern United States and northern Mexico, Ocellated Quail is extremely difficult to see, and is encountered only infrequently in it favored habitat of grassy mixed oak-pine forest and brushy fields between 750 and 3050 m.
Within its range, Ocellated Quails are unlikely to be confused with any other species, given a reasonable look; their range is separated from that of the Montezuma Quail by the broad Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The two species are quite similar in appearance, however. Male Ocellated Quails differ from Montezuma by having reduced white spotting on the breast, while chestnut and black bars adorn the flanks.
BirdLife International lists this species as Near-Threatened, due to habitat destruction and degradation. Uncontrolled grazing and the burning of forests to make way for "improved" grazing lands for livestock are chief among the threats facing this species. Currently, no significant portions of its range are under official protection. Most aspects of the life history, ecology, breeding biology and population size of Ocellated Quail remain unknown.