Sunday, May 03, 2009

What's that Quail, Robert?


Can the Serious Birders help us out here?

We are mystified by the quail we saw whilst cycling in at Arrowhead Marsh, in Oakland.

First, it strikes us that seeing any quail at all so near the freeway and the Oakland Colosseum and all the warehouses is a bit peculiar. But the markings on this bird seem so much like a Gambel's Quail, which shouldn't be in Northern California.

Since the last quail I encountered was someone's escaped dinner, and since Robb tells me that these birds can interbreed with California Quails, I'm totally at a loss to identify these birds.


. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I learned some time ago that when birding, the most likely identification is often the correct one. The chances that we're likely to spot a rare bird, or a bird way outside of its range are much lower than the chances that we're going to miss the clues, and fail to properly identify the animal. As my friend and art-safety mentor Monona says, "If you hear hoofbeats, don't go looking for a zebra."


It would seem that the birds Robb and I spotted on Sunday may very well be Gambel's Quails, which are birds of the desert, and should not be found in Northern California. Since Gambel's Quails don't migrate, it is unlikely that we saw a family that decided to cut their travels short and set up camp in Oakland.


These two species of birds do inter-breed, and furthermore, you can buy these birds (for hunting presumably) on the internet, and since you have to buy 100 at a time, it's quite likely that some of these birds could escape.

Still, it is thrilling to see such an unlikely animal, and to have our identification tentatively confirmed by the serious birders.

Anonymous said...

Good eye Lisa, beautiful photos as always. Most field marks on this bird are better for Gambel's than California Quail. The light forecrown/base to the bill is problematic for Gambel's, but may be fine. Above my pay grade on that one, but would lend itself to thoughts of hybridization. And any presence of Gambel's Quail, if it's a pure bird would cause question as to its origin (i.e. released birds like our regular Chukar reports).
Bob Power
Oakland, CA

Anonymous said...

Interesting pictures.

I should start by pointing out that I am not a quail expert, and I'm just reasoning about what I am seeing and reading my Sibley's, but
given that ...

I am thinking that despite this seeming atypical it is probably a
California Quail. I notice that it seems to have a light forhead, and that the belly looks scaled rather than unmarked. The patch is
problematic, yes, but it seems to be at the top of the belly rather
than farther down as is shown for Gamel's. I'm really not sure about
this - but could this be a brood-patch?

Another minor point - the back of the neck seems to have white
feather-tips as is shown for California Quail.

So I would guess "weird looking California Quail".

What do other people think?

Good birding!


Anonymous said...

Robert, when I see an interesting bird photo, I try to start at the top and work my way down. Here's what I see. Other results may differ, you may or may not want to try this at home (although, there aren't a lot of other options):

Top-knot: Odd/molted/hacked off in a knife-fight. No opinion as to species.

Crown: Deep cinnamon-orange. Nod to Gambel's.

Supercilium and upper black border: No opinion to species.

Forecrown: whitish w/a chunk of
something. May be another remnant of the knife-fight. Nod to California Quail.

Eye and chin: No opinion as to species.

Post-ocular vertical stripe: white and tapering narrowly at bottom and no dark border on the neck side of the stripe: Nod to Gambel's.

Neck: Gray with articulated feathers, but essentially all gray. No black and white flecking. Nod to Gambel's.

Light gray chest.... toss-up.

Upper belly: unmarked, no scales. Gambel's.

Middle-lower belly: black patch: Gambel's.

Streaks on flanks look intermediate to both species. Color of flanks looks intermediate to both species.

Legs look like they want to boogie.

Bob Power
Oakland, CA

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Bob. I really like the systematic approach you are suggesting here, so I guess I do want to try it at home! And of course reading it made me go back to the photo and go through your list. I can't disagree with any of your analysis.

It was interesting to see how my perceptions and evaluation changed
once you pointed out certain things. For example I was seeing the articulated neck feathers as tilting towards California Quail - but after hearing your idea that there is no black and white flecking, and that there is no black border at the back edge of the white stripe, I do see what you mean. That neck really isn't very California

Now as for the boogie legs - I'm going to wait for the video ...


. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

All the above comments were copied from the East Bay Birds forum, with the kind permission of the writers.

You've just gotta love SERIOUS birders who can tell when a bird's legs wanna boogie!!!

Anonymous said...

It looks a LOT like a bird we used to get here in PA when it was more wild and less developed- looks like a quail, alright.

There used to be far more wild turkey (the black ones) in the area, as well as canadian geese. When I was a kid raking leaves in the back yard in the fall, I used to watch huge, HUGE continuous flocks of Canadian geese fly over our house and the neighboring fields, for an HOUR. Now we get maybe a grouping of two. Its really sad its so few. But they do fly really low and we can still hear the wings in their ears as they skim across the roof of the barn.

You have to pay attention to see them these days, since they tend to be far more silent tham car radios and roaring engines. If I were a red neck, I would wonder what the bird would taste like after I blew it away with my gun, or ran it over with my truck.


Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I was blogger 200,663 today at 11:48 eastern standard time!


Anonymous said...

I can't help with your mystery solving, however when I found out today is Bird Day

With International Migratory Bird Day observed on the second Saturday in May (which is this coming weekend)

...I thought of you.


Anonymous said...

Can't vote for either species- I just wanna know how the top knot got chopped off?

Well, all sorts of introuced species, as I emailed you before we have a flock of feral cherry headed conures and..

it was very weird, while we were letterboxing at the Palo Alto duckpond, the kid looks behind us and says "what is THAT bird, I've never seen one of those before".. a Ring Necked Pheasant!

Last time I saw those was as a kid on Long Island, descendants of ones that had been released for hunting on the big old estates in the 1920's.

Kay/The Little Foxes said...

Well, I'm not a quail expert, especially being all the way over here on the East Coast. But I can say for sure that that's a quail egg!!! We have a Ukrainian gentleman who comes to our farm and he sometimes brings quail eggs. He keeps quail just for the eggs! They taste just like hen eggs (and we raise our own hens for the eggs) but they are a lot more fun, cause they are tiny, cute and speckled. My kid is the only one in her school that takes quail eggs for lunch - lol!!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I cannot make this into an odd California Quail. I think it is mostly Gambel's as evidenced by the contrasting red crown and flank. The forehead on the male suggests some California Quail genes, but otherwise it looks much better for Gambel's.

Gambel's Quail or hybrids at this locality would have to be assumed to be released from breeding stock and not naturally occurring.

Neither species is migratory but both are widely introduced or stocked for hunting purposes.

Joseph Morlan

slowe said...

For God's sake don't tell any directors/designers that you can order a hundred live quail on the internet.

funhog said...

Your bird looks identical to the male Gambel's photo in iBird Plus on my iPod as well as the paintings in the Nat'l Geo field guide. The black breast patch is not found on California quail. It's surely out of range. I'd bet local Audubon folks would love to see this!

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm no expert, but they look pretty much just like the ones sitting on my back fence right now...

Gad XX
Scottsdale AZ

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Commenter or Arizona

Your local quails should be Gambel's Quail. And ours shouldn't. That's what's so perplexing about this little family in Oakland.


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