Male Gambel’s Quail On Guard
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The other day I encountered a male Gambel’s Quail standing guard over his mate and brood. This is a common sight this time of year. In late spring the quail produce large broods of 10 or more chicks. The young quail are born capable of foraging. They form a flock (covey) that bonds tightly with the parent birds and the youngsters follow the parents everywhere for the next few weeks as they very rapidly mature.
Baby quail are every predator’s favorite snack food. The youngsters are defenseless and can be easily gobbled up by everything from Cooper’s Hawks to Coyotes. The parents really can’t offer them much protection, being likely prey themselves, other than to sound the warning when danger approaches. In every quail family the male assumes the role of guardian. Typically, the male will perch on a high spot — often a tree or a shrub, or in this case, a small dead tree — and stand watch as his brood forages beneath him.
This male was really into his work. He nervously surveyed the landscape, constantly looking down at his mate and offspring to assure that they were still safe.
Gambel’s Quail are strikingly beautiful birds. I’ve been told that the males’ topknot (females sport a much smaller one) evolved as a babe magnet. Supposedly the females swoon over the males with the largest and most distinctive topknots.
I have no idea if that’s true but it makes for a good story. One thing is certain: these birds are absolutely devoted to their offspring. Perching exposed as this quail was doing made him a target for a predator like a Cooper’s Hawk or a Prairie or Peregrine Falcon. The quail was absolutely fearless. I approached within about 20 feet of him in order to take these photos. He clearly knew that I was there but was absolutely determined to stand his ground just so long as his offspring were at his feet.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f8 @ 1/2000.