Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the July 17, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

On my way back I managed to approach to a distance of about three feet a mama Mountain Quail, OREORTYX PICTA, who was surrounded by at least a dozen tiny, spherical, highly animated, feathery balls. The moment I was noticed the mother gave her danger call ca-ca-ca-ca-ca and all the chicks ran after the mother like ping-pong balls on matchstick legs.

The mother ran for about twenty feet looking this way and that at her wards and continuing her calling, then she mounted a knee-high stump and issued a sharp new call that made all the ping-pong balls crouch motionless, suddenly becoming invisible. Mama posed there in full view looking squarely at me as I viewed her through my binoculars, and I do think I've never seen a more beautiful bird -- a slender, black plume atop her head, her throat and the side of her head chestnut-colored, white eye stripe, head, upper back and breast bluish gray, rest of back, tail and wings brown, sides chestnut with white and black bars and a whitish belly...

You can see all this in a beautiful photograph at http://www.briansmallphoto.com/gallery/moqu.html and you can read about Mountain Quails at http://audubon2.org/webapp/watchlist/viewSpecies.jsp?id=140

This was the first Mountain Quail I'd seen. Down below at Fred & Diana's house we have plenty of California Quails, notable for the black, jaunty "upside-down teardrop" arcing forward from atop their heads. California Quails are at low elevations, however, and Mountain Quail take over at higher ones.

A Mountain Quail also has a black plume atop its head, but that plume is straight and slender, not like a bent, upside-down teardrop. My mama quail's plume was not standard. Instead of a single one, she had two forming a conspicuous black V atop her head. I read that two feathers generally constitute the plume, so apparently the mama's two feathers had separated. Well, with all those little ping-pong balls running around, one can forgive a mama's negligence to her coiffure.