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Quails have an immigration background. But you can learn their language.


Is it the top knot, the scrambled and frantic running, or the cute, tiny chicks that have endeared the California Quail to the people of the Okanagan? Most locals would agree that the round shaped California Quails are adorable as well as unique birds.  Many people (including myself) have had the day-lights scared out of them, by unknowingly walking into a gaggle of quails.  When startled, this results in a chain reaction of alarmed birds exploding into flight, or running for cover with blurred legs. Visitors to the Okanagan often buy artwork depicting this bird. I know a local artist whom always has paintings on hand for the summer tourist season. Although the California Quails are non-native, there may be more here in the Okanagan Valley than anywhere else in the world!  They were introduced here as a game bird.

Male California Quail image

Photo by Tom Skinner


The males are attractively feathered with a grey breast, blacks and toffee colours with stark white edging on the face. In contrast, the females have very subdued colouring. The California Quail’s most distinctive feature is the top knot, the tassel like feathers atop their heads. This top knot is comprised curiously of six feathers, which make them virtually impossible to misidentify. Quails are often seen in large groups called coveys; this grouping is believed to give them a greater chance of survival. These coveys are typically made up of 70 birds; however, they can be found in larger coveys in the winter months.  California Quails do not migrate.


It is important for them to stay close to shrubby areas for protection from predators. The shrub areas also provide fallen seeds, insects, and some plant material for food.  They get most of their moisture from plants and seeds. If there is prolonged summer heat they need a water source to survive. Their nests are built on the ground, and once hatched the young can almost immediately run. A female can lay up to sixteen eggs, three times during the spring/summer season. This prolific breeding helps compensate against the numerous predators.

Quail language 101(everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask)

  • males’ assembly call: ‘chi-CA-go’
  • males’ courting call ‘cow’
  • agitated call ‘spwik-wik-wiw’
  • alarm call ‘pit-pit’
  • males’ spring call ‘waow’


The next time you see a convey of California Quails try to interpret their ‘language” and impress your friends. 😉


-Article by Flora McLeod