Mountain Quail
Range United States to Baja peninsula Mexico.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Galliformes
Family Odontophoridae
Genus Oreortyx
Species Oreortyx pictus
Conservation Status
Least Concern

The Mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus), is a species of small New World quail in the Odontophoridae family. This species is the only one in the genus Oreortyx, which is sometimes included in Callipepla. This is not appropriate, however, as the mountain quail's ancestors have diverged from other New World quails earlier than the bobwhites, no later than 6 mya.


The bird's average length is 26–28 cm (10–11 in), with a wingspan of 35–40 cm (14–16 in). They have relatively short, rounded wings and long, featherless legs. These birds are easily recognized by their top knots, which are shorter in the female. They have a brown face, gray breast, brown back and primaries, and heavily white barred underside.

Distribution and Habitat

It inhabits mountainous chaparral west of the Rocky Mountains, from the United States to Baja peninsula Mexico. It has been introduced to British Columbia in Canada, and some areas of Washington state in the USA. It can be found up to 3,000 m (9,800 ft) above sea level. It is a non-migratory species; however some populations may be altitudinal migrants in some mountain ranges.


Mountain quail primarily move about by walking, and can move surprisingly quickly through brush and undergrowth. In the late summer, fall and winter, the adults and immature young congregate into family groups of up to 20 birds. The birds habits can be secretive. Any flight is usually short and explosive, with many rapid wingbeats followed by a slow glide to the ground.


Its diet consists primarily of plant matter and seeds. The chicks are decidedly more insectivorous than adults, gradually consuming more plant matter as they mature.


Breeding among mountain quail is monogamous, and rarely gregarious. The female typically lays 9–10 eggs in a simple scrape concealed in vegetation, often at the base of a tree or shrub, usually close to water. Incubation lasts from 21–25 days, usually performed by the female and rarely by the male. The chicks are precocial, leaving the nest with their parents within hours of hatching.


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Oreortyx pictus pictus

(Douglas, 1829)

Nominate, found in the Cascade Range of Washington to coastal mountains of central California
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Oreortyx pictus plumifer

(Gould, 1837)

Found in southern Washington to western Nevada and central California
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Oreortyx pictus russelli (pallid mountain quail)

(AH Miller, 1946)

Found in the Little San Bernardino Mountains of southern California
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Oreortyx pictus eremophilus

(van Rossem, 1937)

desert mountain quail – found in the Sierra Nevada of southern California to northern Baja, and extreme southwestern Nevada
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Oreortyx pictus confinis

(Anthony, 1889)

southern mountain quail – found in the mountains of northern Baja California

Status and Conservation

It is not considered threatened by the IUCN, being plentiful across a wide range. However, its success is tied to sufficient habitat, which expands in cooler and more arid climate. Subfossil remains have been found, for example at Rocky Arroyo in the Guadalupe Mountains and Shelter Cave, New Mexico, where today not enough habitat exists anymore. The bones date found from the end of the last ice age to not much more than 8000 BC.

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