The Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata)

The Scaled Quail is also known as the Cotton top or Blue Quail. It is a ground dwelling bird that is found in Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The Scaled Quail has a scaly appearance of the feathers in its breast and back hence the name “Scaled” Quail. It gets the name of Cotton top due to the white crest of feathers that resemble a tuft of cotton.  They are a medium sized quail that is pale gray overall with the scaled feathers on the neck, belly and chest.  Immature birds are also a pale gray overall but will not have the scaled feathering. When frightened these birds tend to run rather than fly like most quail.

The Scaled Quails nest it typically grass lined and hollow in dense vegetation and the hen lays 9-16 speckled eggs twice a year. Incubation time is 22-23 days. Upon hatching, once dry, the chicks immediately follow the hen out of the nest.

The Scaled Quail lives in the desert shrubs and grasslands year round in the Southwest including mesas, open plains, hills, sagebrush and pinvon-juniper woodlands up to 7,000 feet elevation. In places where the territories overlap the Gambel’s Quail and Northern Bobwhite are also found but they use shrubbier and denser habitats than the Scaled Quail.

Seeds from forbs, grains and shrubs are primarily the Scaled Quail’s diet. They also eat insects in spring and green leaves in the winter months.

The Scaled Quail is common and widespread throughout its territorial range. It is not considered endangered and is often hunted.

Interesting facts:

The name “Cotton top” comes from the white plume on its head. With most plumed quail species this plume is black.

This species of quail tends to run rather than fly when startled.

September to April Scaled Quail live in large groups, called coveys, and are highly social. In April they pair off at the start of breeding season. At night, they roost in groups on the ground and form a circle with their heads facing out. The colder it gets the more tightly they form the circle for warmth.  Scaled Quails are monogamous and unpaired males will call to attract mates throughout the breeding season.

There has been a decline in the Scaled Quail population across their range. Some years there is a boom in population and some years a bust. This cycle makes it difficult to determine actual population. Overgrazing is the main competition to this species as well as other species of quail in the Southwest territories. The reduction of food and cover declines with overgrazing. Quail populations do well when land is plowed which allows weeds to grow up or creating brush piles.

New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas have hunting seasons for Scaled Quail, but hunting does not seem to reduce the species' numbers.