State Bird of California – A Captivating Icon of the Golden Coast!

The state bird of California - California Quail

California, aka the Golden State, is located on the west coast of the United States. This ecologically significant state has unique natural landscapes and diverse wildlife.

As a sanctuary of more than 450 bird species, bird watchers always have a special place for California in their hearts. Among those diverse species, the one that holds the state bird title is known for its distinct and colorful appearance, the California Quail.

This species’ males and females can be identified from the black plume extending from the top of their heads. This bird is also known as the Valley quail. 

In this article, we will take a closer look at the state bird of California, the magnificent California quail. Besides many interesting facts, we’ll discuss some details about this remarkable species.

That includes its natural habitat, dietary habits, historical background, current state, etc.

9 Interesting Facts About California’s State Bird: California Quail

There are many little-known facts about this bird. For example, this bird was a minor character in the famous movie “Bambi”.

In this part of the article, we’ll uncover some intriguing facts and characteristics like this one about the state bird of California. Here they are –

1. They Travel As Conveys

The California quail is a species known for traveling in large groups. These groups are called ‘coveys’. During winter and fall, the number of coveys can start from a few dozen and go up to 200 or so.

However, that only lasts until late winter. In spring, the conveys disband the birds separate into pairs.

As soon as the breeding session begins, they form a territory for breeding. During that time, they don’t let other quails intrude on their territory.

After the babies are born, they regroup with others. As a group, they all take care of the younglings and protect them from predators.

2. This Bird Lives in Harmony 

California quails build nests that can accommodate up to 28 eggs. It has been seen that all of the eggs in a nest don’t belong to the same mother bird, but only about half of them.

The reason behind that is the phenomenon called “egg-dumping”. This species of bird sometimes lays eggs in the nest of others. 

However, the mother bird and the male that owns the nest don’t seem to mind at all. The mother bird incubates the guest eggs just like their own until they hatch. Together, they protect them from harm and take good care of them.

3. They’re Ground Dwelling Species

The California quails are known as ground-dwelling birds. This bird species prefers to do most of its business on the ground. 

That includes building their nest and foraging for food on the ground. Even though they don’t build their nests at high positions, they perch on fences and roofs to look out for danger. 

During sunny days, they prefer taking dust baths on the ground. They roll or move around in the dust and flap their wings to disperse dust in the air. 

Even though it may sound ironic, they take these dust baths to keep themselves clean. Another interesting thing is that California quails can reach 19.3 km per hour speed on the ground. 

4. It’s a Game Bird

California quail is a famous species of game bird in California. Game birds are those species hunted for sport and as a source of food.

The meat of game birds, such as the California quail, is quite delicious and has great demand in the market. It’s one of many reasons why this species is so popular.

Hunting has been part of our culture for a long time. Even though hunting this species isn’t prohibited, you need to follow the hunting regulations.

It’s to ensure the population of this bird. In certain areas and at certain times, hunting California quails is restricted. 

5. They Do Quail Huddle

You must know what a huddle is if you watch football. But did you know that the California quails can also do that? Yes, it’s known as a “quail huddle”.

The California quails show this behavior for many reasons, such as a defense mechanism and as a way to keep each other warm. 

When the quails feel threatened, they huddle, keeping the young ones in the middle. This way, they somewhat manage to scare away the predators and keep the children safe.

They keep each other warm, especially the young ones, in this same manner. 

6. It Gets Targeted by Several Predators

The California quails are preferable prey for many predators in the wild. Their known enemies are mostly bobcats, great horned owls, coyotes, squirrels, snakes, and skunks.

When they are in the neighborhood searching for food, they also become easy prey for domestic cats sometimes. 

One of the major reasons that make this bird species easy prey for others is their ground-dwelling nature. When they are spotted by hungry predators, they execute a sudden attack, and boom!

As these birds are small (about 25 cm and 160 g), they become easy targets for many wildlife species.

7. Interesting Scientific Name 

The scientific name of the official state bird of California is Callipepla californica. The word “callipepla” comes from the Greek word “kallipeplos”. It means “beautifully adorned”.

The Greek word can be divided further as kalos and peplos. Kalos means “beautiful,” and peplos means “a ceremonial robe”.

The former scientific name of this bird species was Lophortyx californica. The word “lophortyx” stood for a genus consisting of helmet quails. The California quail was known by this scientific name until 1957.

8. They Have Unique Calls

An interesting fact about this bird’s call might make you question its integrity (JK). Ironically, the distinct call of the California state bird sounds like “chi-ca-go, chi-ca-go.”

If you’ve heard it, you can easily recognize the bird by its call. There are other calls as well. 

The males and females have a distinctive call, and the mated pairs call antiphonally. Besides “chi-ca-go,” they also produce sounds like “pah-WEY”, “waay,” or “waaaaw”,” put way doo”, “spwik wik wik”, and “ut, ut”.

Another “pit-pit” alarm call is used for alerting the covey members of any danger. 

9. Chicks Eat Poop of the Adult Birds

The younglings of the California quails are referred to as “chicks”. An interesting fact about the chicks is that they consume the poop of adult individuals.

It’s a natural system, and it’s important for their digestion. But the question is, why?

Adult birds have protozoans (microscopic unicellular eukaryotes) in their intestine that helps them to digest plants, vegetables, and fruits. The protozoans transmit to chicks when they peck at the feces of adult birds.

When Did California Quail Become a State Symbol of California?

California quail is unique to the California state legislation only. This species was designated as the state bird of California in 1931.

However, there is an obvious confusion about the date for certain reasons. Was it the 12th of June or the 14th of August? Let’s clear up the confusion. 

The Audubon Society recommended the California quail be officially adopted as the state bird by the California Legislature. Then after certain formalities and events, Governor James Rolph, Jr. passed Assembly Bill No. 776 on June 12, 1931.

The bill proposed that the State adopt California Valley Quail as “the official bird and avifaunal emblem of the State of California”.

Even though the bill was signed and approved on June 12, it wasn’t in effect until August 14. That’s why the California quail officially became the state symbol on August 14, 1931!

What’s the Habitat of California Quail?

The California quail is a species that can be frequently observed in a diverse range of habitats.

They usually prefer places that have permanent water sources nearby. For example, stream valleys, brushy foothills, and suburbs are in the open woodlands along the coast. 

They are also found in patchy scrubland, oak woodland, parks, sagebrush, coastal scrub, estates, and agricultural farms.

The California quail is a non-migratory bird species. They live in the same nest year around.  

What Are the Food Habits of California Quail?

The primary diet chart of the California Quail consists of seeds of wildflowers, grasses, and clover.

They have a digestive system that is well-suited for extracting nutrients from seeds. However, during the breeding season, they depend on insects such as beetles, spiders, ants, nails, and grasshoppers. 

California quails usually acquire the necessary moisture from insects and vegetables. But when the heat goes up, they need to drink water from a direct source to survive. 

What’s the Current State of California Quail?

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List ranks the California quail as LC or “Least Concern” on the species conservation status.

Currently, their population consists of 3.8 M breeding individuals. This species isn’t facing any threat of extinction right now. 

Even though this species is popular as game birds and hunting isn’t prohibited, we shouldn’t kill these birds unnecessarily for fun. Extinction of this bird will notably affect the ecosystem in the wild.

Wrap Up

The charming appearance of the California quail represents the beautiful landmarks of California, aka the Golden State. They show remarkable adaptability and resourcefulness.

They play an important role in the ecosystem of the state. Altogether, it’s quite suitable as the state symbol. 

Photo of author

Written and Fact-checked by David Neff

Author at BirdBonica

David is an expert birder and bird parent with in-depth knowledge of birds. He has years of experience observing birds in their natural habitats, studying their diets, behavior, and more. (Learn more about David here...)

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