National Geographic : 1915 Aug
MOUNTAIN QUAIL (Oreortyx picta picta). Range: Pacific coast from southwestern Washington south to Monterey County, California. All our American quail are beautiful, but this superb denizen of the mountain sides bears away the palm. Its elegant form, rich coloration, its long, nod ding black plumes, its brown gorget, and its alert carriage lend the bird an air of rare distinction. Our plumed knight of the mountains loves not the low country with its dry watercourses, its heat and dust, but chooses for his permanent home the mountain valleys and hillsides with their pure air and numerous streams. This quail, with its two varieties, is strictly limited to the west coast where it ranges from Lower California into Washington. Formerly it was abundant over most of its range, and it is yet numerous in many localities. In Oregon it used to be trapped in great numbers, and as long ago as 1880 was commonly exposed in the city markets in crates containing twenty or more. Even the market men decried the practice, but nevertheless cheerfully sold the birds at three dollars per dozen. A sad sight it was to see these beautiful creatures captive and exposed for sale. My own experience with the mountain quail dates back many years. All the covies I saw in California and Oregon were comparatively small, always less than ten, and the bird appears rarely, if ever, to associate in great gatherings composed of several or more independent covies, as does the valley and Gambel's quail. When in their ordinary mountain haunts, plumed quail are tame enough, altogether too tame for their own safety, but I am told that where much pursued by sports men with or without dogs, they rapidly lose their unsophisticated ways and learn to take good care of themselves. VALLEY QUAIL (Lophortyx californica californica). Range: Pacific coast region from southwestern Oregon south to Monterey County, California; introduced into Vancouver Island, Washington, and Colorado. The two forms of quail inhabiting the coast and valley regions of Oregon and California, though differing enough in plumage to constitute races, are very similar in habits. As its name implies, the bird prefers valleys to mountains, although it may range upward as high as four thousand feet, at about which point it meets the habitat of its larger relative, the mountain quail. The valley quail is widely distributed, and being very prolific, it is, or was, exceedingly abundant over most of its range. Eastern sportsmen, knowing only our Bob-white, would find it difficult to credit tales that might be told of the numbers of valley quail that formerly congregated in favorable localities. Flocks of over two hundred were common enough, but in the late seventies and eighties I have occasionally seen several thousand assembled together near water. When flushed, successive bands of hundreds rose simultaneously with an extraordinary whir of wings, and the air was filled with their flying forms. Such sights are of the past, although the valley quail is still numerous in many regions. It is on good terms with civilization and is prone to frequent cultivated tracts, especially vineyards and gardens, even on the outskirts of populous towns. Its fondness for grapes does not endear it to the vine grower, and he often has to resort to extreme measures to protect the bunches of ripe fruit which probably furnish the quail not with food but with water, for this quail discovered the virtues of grape juice long before it was put on the market. GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Lophortyx gambeli). Range: Desert region of southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and southwestern Utah, east to the southwestern corner ofColorado; also insouth western New Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley and the El Paso region of extreme western Texas, and south into the northeastern corner ofLower California and to Guaymas, Sonora. Though differing markedly incoloration from the valley quail ofthe Pacific coast, Gambel's quail so closely resembles that bird insize and general habits that in my mind the two are inseparable. That the quail themselves are sometimes misled by the likeness would appear from the fact that the twd readily hybridize, and I have seen a number of the hybrids from southeastern California. This quail prefers cation bottoms and rockyhillsides for hunting grounds, and the speed with which the individuals of a frightened covey can make good their escape among rocks and bushes is surprising. Gambel's quail trusts for safety first toits legs and only secondarily to its wings,while itisrare indeed that itresorts toBob white's favorite ruse of close hiding. Ordinarily infall itassociates inlarge banda -they can scarcely be called covies, since they are the aggregate of many covies and under these circumstances the pot hunter who cannot slay his scores must indeed be a bungler. Gambel'squail isnostranger invineyard and garden, although for the most part it frequents scantily inhabited districts. Inone respect both Gambel's and the California valley quail have greatly the advantage over Bob-white since, if these two western species ever roosted on the ground, they long ago abandoned the habit in favor oftrees and thick undergrowth, where they are safe from most prowlers of thedarkness. SCALED QUAIL (Callipepla squamata squamata). Range: From central Arizonato western Texas, north to southern Colorado and over most of the Panhandle ofTexas, east nearly to central Texas, and south to the Valley of Mexico. The cottontop, as the scaled quail has been dubbed from its conspicuous whitish crest, has a restricted range in theUnited States along our southern border. The country it frequents is dry and barren, and chaparral and mesquite form its favorite cover. On account of the dry nature ofquails' food they are greatly dependent upon water, and hence the presence oflarge numbers of cottontops may betaken as a pretty sure indication that astream or waterhole isnot far away. Western quail of whatever species have learned to trust to their legs rather than their wings to carry them out of harm's way,and the cottontop forms no exception to the rule. When alarmed, a bevy will scatter hither and yon among the rocks orbrush, to come together again when the supposed danger ispast. When hard pressed itis an adept at close hiding. The bluish gray plumage ofthe cottontop harmonizes well with its usual surroundings and no doubt the confidence the bird reposes in its protective coloration is justifiedby long experience. Protected by the remote ness of its desert home this quailshould long survive the fate of some ofits less fortunate relatives, though the automobile, with its power to annihilate distance, is a new danger which it has yet to meet. The habits of the chestnut-bellied scaled quail are so similar to those ofthe present species as not to call forseparate mention. The bird ranges from the lower Rio Grande Valley in TexastoCoahuila and Nuevo Leon, Mexico.