Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2006
Regional Report

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This yard's profuse wildflower planting provides nectar and seeds for birds.

Gambel's Quail

My bird books are getting a workout lately, helping me keep up with the birds nesting in my backyard. Last month it was mourning dove, and today I turned the corner and startled a family of Gambel's quail (Callipepla gambelii). Mom, Dad, and seven youngsters scurried for cover behind the air conditioning unit, of all places. The chicks were smaller than ping-pong balls, but they sure could rocket across the ground after their parents!

Mary Taylor Gray notes in Watchable Birds of the Southwest (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1995; $14) that Gambel's quail have been clocked on the ground faster than 15 mph, so I guess these chicks were keeping up that speed record.

Adult quail occasionally walk along the top of the 6-foot block wall surrounding my backyard and fly down to poke around for food. Sometimes one will be on the roof of the house at dusk, and I can see its funny little topknot in silhouette against the sky. But I've never had babies in the backyard before!

I've been moving from window to window, totally amused by the speed of the babies. How can those half-inch-long toothpick legs zip along that fast? They can't be more than a day or two old because they weren't out there yesterday. I've also been wondering what those seven hungry mouths will eat. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Sue Hakala wrote in the December 2003 issue of the Master Gardener Journal that juvenile quail eat only insects for the first month. The family has been methodically moving up and down the yard, pecking every square inch it seems, so I expect my yard will be stripped clean of crawlers. Carry on! I did observe the whole family pecking at some weed seedlings (see, it pays to be behind on one's weeding chores), whether to find insects or on instruction from the adults (Look kids, this is tasty!), I don't know.

Quail are foraging seed-eaters and will also consume grains, green plants, and cacti fruit. I wondered which, if any, of my plants are favored by quail, so I did a little research. I was glad to learn that Baja fairy duster and pink fairy duster (Calliandra californica and C. eriopylla), brittle bush (Encelia farinosa), and globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) all provide seed. I may have to add some more quail treats if my yard is becoming a quail zone!

Following is a list of other plants specifically mentioned in various references as seed sources for quail. They are also fond of the nutritious seeds of legume plants (many desert plants are legumes) and eat flowers from dalea (Dalea frutescens).

Seed Plants for Gambel's Quail
Quailbush and four-wing saltbush (Atriplex lentiformis and A. canescens)
Spiny mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa)
Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina)
Catclaw shrub (Acacia greggii)
Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)
Tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
Lupine (Lupinus sp.)
Desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa)

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