Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the October 3, 2004 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills
somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA
One of the most common as well as one of the prettiest birds here is the California Quail, LOPHORTYX CALIFORNICUS, California's state bird. I photographed the above birds in southern Oregon. In that picture you'll see that the species' most striking feature is the jaunty topknots atop the heads of both sexes -- black, upside-down-teardrop-shaped plumes worn as an Indian brave might wear a single forward-drooping feather stuck in his headband. The male also has a striking black face and his throat is sharply outlined by a white border. You can hardly imagine a neater-looking bird, a plump-looking little chicken-like species with every feather in place. He reminds me of a portly but very elegant Musketeer.
The East's Bobwhites are closely related, and the two species behave very similarly -- running on the ground in small flocks, habitually pecking at weed and grass seeds, small fruits, leaf material and insects, and only hesitatingly taking to the air when they have to. And when they do take flight, it's explosive.
Around the house, especially around ten in the morning and just before dusk, often I hear a series of soft, sharp clucks and slurred notes. Looking around, it's easy to spot a flock of up to 30 scratching and pecking in the grass next to the garden, or running from one open area to another. When I approach them they run with remarkable speed, and only if I'm really aggressive do they take wing.
Folks around here say that there's a "mountain quail" and a "valley quail." The California Quail is the "valley quail." The Mountain Quail is a bit rarer and I've not seen it yet