Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii), foraging in a mesquite bosque at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.
In the wild these are shy, secretive birds. The population at the botanical garden is less skittish, but the birds still flee when they see an eager nature photographer approaching.
These birds are much larger than the bobwhites I knew as a child, but many of the behaviors are the same. My first exposure to quail with head plumes was from Disney’s Bambi, which I saw with my mother sometime around 1960. It’s still memorable because of the terrors of the fire scene, and because we emerged from the theater into a snow storm.
I’ve since learned that there is much to object to in Disney’s version of the story. The quail, especially, are given short shrift. Gallinaceous birds (those that scratch and peck for a living) evolved the very effective habit of explosive flight to escape predators over millions of years. They have only had about 300 years to adapt to shotguns. It seems a bit unfair to portray them as neurotic and unbalanced in the face of modern dangers.
Happy National Bird Day! Southern Arizona is world famous as a hot spot for bird watchers. Here at Biosphere 2 we commonly see scrub jay, gambel’s quail, raven, cardinal, great horned owl, cooper’s hawk, redtailed hawk, harris’s hawk, turkey vulture, gila woodpecker, say’s phoebe, curve-billed thrasher, hooded oriole, canyon towhee, phainopepla and many other seasonal migrants, including warblers, hummingbirds and sparrows.
Did you know that nearly 12 percent of the world’s 9,800 bird species may face extinction within the next century? Birds are sentinel species whose plight serves as barometer of ecosystem health and alert system for detecting global environmental ills.