Sentinel — Gambel’s Quail
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The other day I photographed a male Gambel’s Quail on guard duty. This phenomenon is something that one sees quite often when one sees quail.
Gambel’s Quail usually congregate in flocks (coveys) of as many as a dozen birds or more. They are almost exclusively ground foragers, scratching in the dirt like chickens for seeds or insects. They are relatively poor fliers. A big flight for one of these birds is a few yards. They have superb reflexes, however, and can become airborne with amazing speed. A covey of Gambel’s Quail suddenly taking flight looks like an explosion.
These birds have numerous predators. Coyotes, Bobcats, several species of raptors, they all love to prey on Gambel’s Quail. The quail are highly vulnerable to being attacked when they are foraging out in the open.
That’s where this fellow comes in. Often, when a covey of quail forages one bird will stay apart from the group. His (invariably, the sentinel bird is a male) function is to look out for predators and to sound a warning if he sees one.
We watched this bird for several minutes. He took his duties very seriously. He never budged from his perch and he was the picture of alertness, swiveling his head in order to surveil his surroundings but otherwise remaining at rigid attention. Guard duty can mean the difference between life and death for members of a covey.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1600.