The Scaled Quail, also known as the Blue Quail or Cottontop (owing to the distinctive white top-knot on its crest), is a familiar game bird of the desert grasslands of Mexico and the southwestern United States. As F. M. Bailey (1928) wrote, "Picking up insects, seeds, and berries as they go, they wander through brushy arroyos, over juniper-clad foothills, cactus flats, and sagebrush or mesquite plains calling to each other with a nasal pay-cos, pay-cos, which by long association comes to take on the charm attaching to the birds themselves and to the fascinating arid land in which they make their homes."
Like most quail, this is a gregarious game bird that forms large winter coveys and usually runs rather than flies to escape its enemies. Besides insects and leaves, its diet includes seeds from a wide variety of forbs, grasses, and shrubs. Scaled Quail populations periodically rise and fall. These "booms and busts" generally seem attributable to widespread reproductive failure, possibly owing to inadequate rainfall and a resulting lack of succulent foods. In addition, severe winter weather with prolonged deep snow can cause widespread mortality. Overall, populations of Scaled Quail are declining in the U.S. Like many other upland game birds of the desert southwest, this quail seems to be particularly vulnerable to excessive grazing by livestock, which has severely reduced its feeding, nesting, and roosting cover in many areas.
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