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Mountain Quail: Facts, Uses, Origins & Characteristics (With Pictures)

two Mountain Quails on Fence Post

Mountain Quail are ground-dwelling birds belonging to the New World Quail family. Despite their small size, they are the largest breed of quail in the United States.

Keeping Mountain Quail can be difficult because these birds require more care than other breeds. They do best with experienced keepers who can meet the birds’ various needs.

These unique birds have fancy plumage and make beautiful additions to flocks. Let’s find out more about them.

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Quick Facts About Mountain Quail

Breed Name: Oreortyx pictus
Place of Origin: Mountain ranges in western North America
Uses: Eggs, ornamental flock members, meat
Male Size: Weighs 6.7 ounces, stands 9 inches tall
Female Size: Weighs 9.2 pounds, stands 9 inches tall
Color: Olive, brown, blue, grey, white, black
Lifespan: 3–6 years
Climate Tolerance: Heat and cold
Care Level: Difficult
Egg Production: 9–15 eggs per season
Diet: Varies by season but typically includes insects, leaves, bulbs, seeds, and berries

Mountain Quail Origins

Mountain Quail are found in foothills and mountains in the western United States. They range from the Cascade mountain range to mountains in Central California.

Their ancestors are made up of other New World Quail breeds. The Mountain Quail originated in the mountains and are found in Oregon, California, Washington, and Nevada.

Mountain Quail were introduced to British Columbia and Canada. They can be found in these areas, though they are not native to them.

mountain quail perched on a leafless tree
Image Credit: Bob Pool, Shutterstock

Mountain Quail Characteristics

There are five subspecies of Mountain Quail, all with slight color variations. There is no significant difference in size, and male and female birds closely resemble each other.

Although Mountain Quail can fly, they prefer to stay on the ground in areas with plenty of ground coverage. They are elusive, standing still when approached so they blend in with their surroundings, which means they can be difficult to spot.

Mountain Quail can be identified by their call. It’s a loud, two-syllable “quee-ark” whistle, usually repeated quickly around 10 times. This helps the birds find one another when they are separated from the group. Their calls echo in the mountains, making the birds seem larger than they really are.

They move quickly through brushes and shrubs, easily jumping and climbing into trees to search for food. When they do take flight, they don’t stay airborne for long. Their wings beat rapidly while they slowly descend to the ground. These explosive flights usually only occur when the birds sense that they are in danger.

Adult Mountain Quail form social groups of up to 20 birds between late summer and winter. They have secretive lives and are difficult to observe in the wild. While this means we don’t know that much about them, it does keep them safe from predators.

Mountain Quail mate from March to June each year. They are monogamous and both parents raise the young. Females only lay between nine and 15 eggs per clutch each year. These eggs hatch within 20–26 days.

Uses

Mountain Quail are hunted for meat, and they can also be kept on farms for eggs and meat. Although females don’t lay many eggs each year, the eggs that they do produce are edible.

These beautiful birds are often kept as ornamental pets or as attractive additions to an existing quail flock.

mountain quail chicks in the incubator
Image Credit: Serova_Ekaterina, Shutterstock

Appearance & Varieties

Mountain Quail are stout-bodied birds. Their defining characteristic is plumage made up of two feathers that rise up and arc from the tops of their heads. It’s difficult to tell males and females apart, but one difference is that this plumage is smaller in females.

When this plumage is pointing straight up, it means the birds are anxious or on high alert. If the plumage is pointing backward, the birds are relaxed and calm.

Mountain Quail are boldly patterned. Their blue-gray chests blend into a chestnut abdomen and back, which have white accents. The face and throat are chestnut with white edges. The legs are featherless.

There are five subspecies of Mountain Quail that all share similar features. Two western subspecies have rich brown tones. Three desert subspecies are pale gray. This shows that they’ve adapted to the coloring of their dry environment.

Habitat

Mountain Quail typically live between 2,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level. They like woodland forests because they offer plenty of ground cover for the birds to hide in and feel safe and unseen by predators.

This ground cover also helps them find food. They enjoy dense tree coverings with steep slopes. At lower elevations, Mountain Quail live in scrub habitats in the Mojave Desert. This usually occurs in winter, when higher elevations are covered in snow and food is hard to find.

The birds enjoy scrubby habitats near water during the summer. In coastal regions, Mountain Quail are most often found in thickets.

mountain quail
Image Credit: JAdamsID, Pixabay

Are Mountain Quail Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Mountain Quail are not good for small-scale farming unless you have experience with their needs.

Raising these quail is not easy because there is no guarantee that a pair will breed or lay eggs. Some quail are not compatible with others. You’d need around 10 birds to increase your chances of a successful match.

Mountain quail are also susceptible to diseases. To avoid these issues, quail must be kept off the ground and their enclosures, and their dishes must be kept clean. If they eat wet or old food, they could get sick.

Until Mountain Quail reach 6 months of age and sometimes longer, they can be quite aggressive. They don’t like humans and try to hide when people approach them. If they panic at the sight of you, they could go into shock.

If these birds are feeling aggressive, they may turn on each other. This is especially true if they don’t have a breeding partner.

The chicks are difficult to raise and must be hand-fed until they learn to eat on their own. If you’re interested in breeding Mountain Quail to create more birds, this might be challenging to do.

Mountain Quail are often more expensive than other breeds because they are so unique. If you can meet the needs of these birds or you have experience raising them, they will make good additions to your small-scale farm. But they are not ideal for beginners.

Mountain Quail are unique birds that have distinctive sounds and patterns. They live in mountain ranges in the Western United States, but they can be elusive and hard to spot in the wild.

If you’re familiar with the needs of Mountain Quail, they are good choices for small-scale farming. If you’re a beginner or don’t have the time to dedicate to raising these birds, they might not be the best option for you. Other breeds of quail produce more eggs and are easier to raise.

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Featured Image Credit: Skip Reeves, Shutterstock

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