California Quail Nesting (Behavior, Eggs + Location)

California Quail Nesting (Behavior, Eggs + Location)

The state bird of California, the California quail (Callipepla californica), is an attractive ground-dwelling bird that flocks together in flocks called coveys. California quail live as far north as British Columbia to as far south as Baja California and are intriguingly resourceful.

This is a guide to California nesting, including nest location, phenology, construction, and more.

California quail nest on the ground, as is typical of the entire quail family. Nests are basic but well hidden. It’s thought that different subspecies have slightly different colored eggs, which blend in with the prevailing shrubs of the region.

These social birds sometimes nest communally with two or more females laying eggs in the same nest, with multiple males lingering nearby to keep an eye out for predators. Flocks of young quails can number 20 to 40 birds.

Of course, there is much more to learn about the nesting habits of this beautiful and resourceful bird - read on to find out!

Male and female breeding pair of California Quail seeking out a suitable nest site

Male and female breeding pair of California Quail seeking out a suitable nest site

Nest Location

Where do California Quails nest?

As ground-dwelling birds, California quails nest mostly underneath shrubs, vegetation, or sturdy rocks. Any location that provides cover from predators and other hazards is an ideal nesting spot.

In arid regions, quail make use of what limited shrubs are available, whereas in more forested areas to the north of their range in Oregon, Washington and Canada, they choose well-protected shrubby grasslands.

Do California Quails nest in the same place every year?

California quails are usually non-migratory, so they'll nest in the same area if conditions remain favorable.

For example, so long as there’s enough food, water, good weather, and few predators, California quails will rarely stray too far from their natal territory.

Do California Quails nest in backyards?

California quails do nest in backyards where they are present in their range, but only if there's sufficient shrub or vegetation cover for them to construct their nests and hide from predators.

Do California Quails nest on the ground?

California quails are ground-dwelling birds that solely nest on the ground.

Female California Quail (hen), sat on the nest

Female California Quail (hen), sat on the nest

Nest Appearance

What do California Quail nests look like?

Constructed from twigs, grass, and leaves, the nest is a simple shallow depression concealed in shrubs and vegetation. Nests are usually well-camouflaged and hidden under shrubs or bushes.

How big are California Quail nests?

The nests are around 2 inches deep and 5 to 7 inches in diameter.

A family outing - California Quail chicks with both of their parents

A family outing - California Quail chicks with both of their parents


What time of year do California Quails nest?

California quails generally nest in the traditional spring breeding season between April and June.

Flocks of quails, called coveys, begin to disband in late winter, which is when pairing begins. Nesting follows soon after and lasts for much of spring into early summer.

How long do California Quails nest for?

Female California quails lay three eggs every four days, and the average incubation period lasts 23 days, so the total nesting period is around 35 days, give or take.

Newly hatched nestlings leave the nest within just 1 to 2 days of hatching. The pair might re-attempt nesting later in spring if the first nest fails. On rare occasions, female quail will raise a second brood if conditions are favorable.

What month do California Quails lay eggs?

California quail usually lay eggs around April and May. During this time, the female California quail lays three eggs per day, spaced out between four days.

Where do California Quails nest in the winter?

California quails are generally a non-migratory species, though they may move around to find food or water. Some northern populations are nomadic, moving gradually south in winter.

In winter, they perch atop tree branches or a raised position where they stay in groups called coveys which can range between 10 to 200 birds.

California quail usually their lay eggs around April and May

California quail usually their lay eggs around April and May

Nest Construction

How do California Quails build their nests?

After pair bonding, the female scouts the territory and selects the nesting site. She scrapes a shallow depression into the dirt and lines it with twigs, leaves, corn husks, and other soft materials.

What do California Quails use for nesting?

Grass, twigs, leaves, corn husks, and even animal hair or fur.

Do male or female California Quails build the nest?

Some studies report that both male and female California quails scrape the ground to prepare the nest depression, whereas others state it's usually just the female.

The female California quail takes the lead role and, in most cases, does most of the work. The male perches nearby, acting as a sentinel to look out for predators and other hazards.

Female California Quail watching over her chicks, whilst they're feeding

Female California Quail watching over her chicks, whilst they're feeding

California Quail Eggs

What do California Quail eggs look like?

California Quail Eggs range from white to cream-colored with numerous brown spots. Given the precarious location of the nests, eggs have presumably evolved to blend in with the environment to avoid sighting by predators.

Eggs patterns and coloration seem to vary across subspecies, and studies show that females instinctively know the color of their eggs. In turn, they choose nesting sites with shrubs that match their egg patterns to maximize camouflage.

How many eggs do California Quails lay?

Most female California quails lay an average of 12 eggs per year, but some large clutches can range up to 16 or 17. Eggs might include 28 eggs which result from multiple females laying eggs in the same nest.

However, she may lay more if the breeding was unsuccessful due to all their offspring dying or for some other reason.

Do male California Quails sit on eggs?

In the wild, males rarely incubate. Female California quails bear the primary responsibility of incubating eggs.

The male counterpart usually perches at a raised location to keep watch of predators, and will promptly alert his partner using sharp frantic calls if he spots incoming danger. However, males have been observed incubating if the female dies or abandons the nest.

Close up of unhatched California Quail eggs

Close up of unhatched California Quail eggs

Fledgling and Parental Care

When do baby California Quails leave the nest?

Baby California Quail are born precocial and are ready to leave the nest in just a day or so. Chicks hatch with their eyes open and are extremely mobile after a few hours.

Like many other ground-dwelling birds, California quail chicks hatch in an advanced state of development and hit the ground running.

Interestingly, towards the end of incubation, chicks signal their siblings while still in the eggs, which prompts synchronous hatching. This enables the chicks to hatch simultaneously and move from the nest as a unit as soon as they hatch.

Still, female California quails continue to brood their chicks for up to two weeks or until they can regulate their body temperatures.

How many broods do California Quails have?

Usually, California quails raise just one brood per year. However, on a good year with a plentiful food supply, availability of mates, good weather, etc, a female California quail can have two roosts, usually with two different partners.

Older California Quail chicks with both of their parents

Older California Quail chicks with both of their parents


Do California Quails abandon their nests?

Female California quails lay eggs some one day apart and tend to wander off in between, which makes it appear that the nest is abandoned. They’ll only abandon the nest permanently due to fire, predators, flooding, or other similarly severe threats.

Where do California Quails nest at night?

California quail roost above ground, mostly on shrubs or low-lying tree branches.

How to attract nesting California Quails?

California quail love millet and cracked corn. If you can have more of these around and they'll come flocking. You can use feeders or sprinkle millet and cracked corn on the property.

Also, plenty of shrubs or vegetation support California quail, as this provides them with suitable camouflage.

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