Readers’ wildlife photos

October 16, 2022 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and once again it gives us a chance to see the avian photos of biologist John Avise. This week’s them is the quail.

Quail Query (with a Philomena-like question and answer)

Here in Southern California we have three quail species:  the California Quail (Callipepla californica), Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii), and the Mountain Quail (Oreoryx pictus).   Interestingly, all three species have intriguing topknot or tassel feathers protruding from their foreheads.

Which bring us to today’s quail query: What is the functional role of these topknots?  Probably the leading hypothesis is that genes for these topknots evolved under the influence of sexual selection, when females preferred to mate with males displaying these adornments.  However, I want to jokingly offer an alternative explanation: perhaps the topknots play a role in navigation and orientation.  After all, each quail infallibly follows its own topknot, wherever it may lead.

Gambel’s Quail male:

Gambel’s Quail female:

Gambel’s Quail male singing:

Gambel’s Quail with topknot leading the way:

Small covey of Gambel’s Quail:

California Quail male:

California Quail female:

Another California Quail:

California Quail head portrait:

California Quail chicks:

California Quail teenagers:

California Quail family:

Mountain Quail:

10 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Reminds me of the great pompadours of 1950’s rock n roll.

    Somewhere I have a book of Native American art and artifacts that had examples of California indigenous baskets, Chumash, I think. They were quite fond of weaving the topknot feather into the baskets. They were beautiful but I hate to think of how many quail it took for each example.

    I haven’t checked but it wouldn’t surprise me if the California species are suffering population declines like the bobwhites out here in Missouri. Ground-dwellers choked out by invasive plants, insecticides destroying a food source, ground nesting destruction by environmental degradation, mowing, grazing, and feral cat predation…and so on. I grew up one block over from a street named for the quail that were driven out by the creation of the subdivision. Sorry, John’s post was light-hearted but led me down a dark path.

    1. Fire ants are an especially serious problem for anything that nests on the ground in the southeastern US. Don’t know if they have reached California.

  2. I love all the different shapes of the topknots. My favorite topknots are the California Quail chicks. It looks like a little horn.
    Thank you! Great photos.

  3. I too like the tiny topknots on the chicks!
    My Philomena question: Dear science man (Dr. Avise): Why are these birds always afraid? I mean their very name says that they quail at … well I guess just about everything, ‘dun it?

    1. The name “Quail” derives from an unfortunate mis-spelling of Daniel Quayle, a very timid Vice-President who was always in hiding under a Bush (a U.S. administration in the early 1990’s).

  4. Since the 2017 fire here and the resulting explosion of understory shrubbery, California Quail populations have ‘exploded’ too. From one covey about a quarter mile away to 6 or 7 within a quarter mile.
    Mountain Quail are present too but not in similar numbers. Their topknot points more or less straight up, tilting back slightly. Is that why they appear lost?

  5. I have Gambel’s in my back yard every day, multiple coveys. We count the young being shepherded about by their vigilant parents. Starts with around a dozen little puffballs and by the time they’re adult-sized there are usually only 2 or 3 left. The males sit up on the top of the chicken coop and make the most astounding jungle-bird-like cry. Big fan.

  6. California Quail was one of the few “life birds” (I am not a lister but do remember if something is new to me.) that I identified before I saw one, because a friend had told me they say “Chi-ca-go”. Sure enough. Other birds in that category were Chuck-wills-widow and Olive-sided Flycatcher (“Quick, three beers!”).

    Great photos, as usual, John.

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