Travel & Day Trips

California’s State Bird; Everything to Know About the California Quail

The Golden State, known for its diverse and beautiful geography, is home to a multitude of fauna. Among these, one species that stands out is the state bird, the California Quail.

Since 1931, the California Quail, also known as the valley quail, has been the official state bird, representing California’s natural beauty.

I often see California quail hanging out in the woods near by house in Lafayette, California. They’re flitty, neurotic little birds, but they have a distinctive and beautiful look. Here’s what to know about the CA quail–including how it tastes!

About the California Quail

The California Quail (Callipepla californica) is a species of small ground-dwelling bird in the New World quail family. It’s a remarkable bird, not only for its appearance but also for its fascinating behaviors.

This species is best recognized for its hardiness, adaptability, and social nature. They move around in groups, known as coveys, particularly in the non-breeding season, a trait that fosters a strong sense of community within their ranks.

Flock or covey of California Quail (Callipepla californica) or valley quail, the official state bird of California, in a suburban setting, San Ramon, California, 2017.

Quails are also known for their vocal communication. Their distinctive call, which sounds like “Chi-ca-go,” is part of the early morning soundtrack in many parts of California. When it comes to nesting, these ground birds create a simple scrape nest and can lay up to 16 eggs, making them one of the most prolific layers among bird species.

Are California Quails Native to California?

Yes, as their name suggests, California Quails are native to the western coastal and mountain regions of the United States, primarily California.

However, their adaptability has allowed them to extend their range beyond the state. They can now be found across the Pacific Northwest, and they have been introduced successfully to other parts of the world such as New Zealand and British Columbia.

What Does a California Quail Look Like?

A California Quail is a small, plump bird, with males slightly larger than females. They are best known for their round shape, intricately patterned feathers, and a forward-facing, teardrop-shaped plume or double plume on their foreheads, also known as a topknot.

They possess a gray-blue chest, brown back, and a scaly pattern on the belly. Males are particularly striking with a black face outlined in white, a chestnut cap, and a black throat patch. Females, while less colorful, carry the same patterns but are primarily gray or brown overall.

Is California Quail Edible?

Yes, California Quails are edible, and many people consider them a delicacy. I’ve tried the California quail (deep fried, by the way) and can tell you what they taste like.

Quail meat is tender, delicately flavored, and tastes a lot like chicken or turkey, although it has a slightly more gamey flavor. Since quail are so tiny, it’s like eating a miniature chicken, and you can finish the whole thing in a few bites!

Fried California Quail, the State bird of California, an iconic dish at State Bird Provisions, a Michelin starred restaurant widely considered to be among the top restaurants in San Francisco, in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, California, March 7, 2020.

Moreover, quail eggs are a gourmet ingredient enjoyed in many cuisines worldwide.

However, hunting these birds requires a hunting license and must be done in accordance with California’s hunting regulations to ensure the sustainability of their populations. I ate quail at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, where they were responsibly farmed.

Are California Quails Rare?

Although they are not considered rare, California Quail populations have experienced some declines due to habitat loss from urban development and agriculture. However, they are still relatively abundant and are classified as a species of ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, it is essential to continue preserving their habitats and maintaining responsible hunting practices to ensure the ongoing survival and prosperity of this charming and iconic California bird.

In summary, the California Quail is a distinctive and cherished emblem of California’s rich and diverse ecology. By understanding and appreciating this remarkable bird, we also pay homage to the state’s rich natural heritage that it represents.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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