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What is the State Bird of California? (And Why?)

California is a western state in the US, which is the state with the highest population and the third-largest by area. It has a diverse range of habitats, which attract a great variety of wildlife all over. The state animal for California is the California Grizzly Bear, but what is the state bird?

The state of California chose the California Quail (Callipepla Californicus or Lophortyx californica) as the state bird in 1931. Also called the California Valley Quail, this plump game bird sports gray feathers streaked with white on its stomach.

This tough bird grows to a size just a bit smaller than a pigeon, but you can easily discern it from a pigeon by the curved black plume on top of its head. This avian forages for food, typically seeds but, during its breeding season, eats insects.

The state bird of California, the California Quail.

The state bird of California, the California Quail.

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Why is the California quail the state bird for California?

The Golden State, California, chose the wild California quail for its state bird. This bird settled down in the open areas of the state, especially along the coast. Its resourceful nature intrigued the Audubon Society, which selected the valley quail as its recommendation for the official state bird. The California Legislature concurred, passing AB 776 and naming the California valley quail "the official bird and avifaunal emblem of the State of California."

When did the California quail become the state bird for California?

The state of California passed AB 776 on June 12, 1931, to name its state bird. California does not share the California quail as a state bird with any state.

A flock of California Quail in flight

A flock of California Quail in flight

What does the state bird of California look like?

This member of the massive quail family, which has 43 different species in it, blends gray, brown, tan, and white feathers for a distinguished appearance. The birds sport a comma-shaped plume that hangs forward from the top of their head. The chest of males of this species appears slate gray, and their faces bear white stripes.

From head to tail, the California quail measures about 10 inches in length. Its wingspan is 14 inches. These little birds don’t weigh much – only 5 ounces to 7 ounces.

A male California Quail

A male California Quail

How do these birds behave?

Consider the quail a socialite bird. It travels in flocks or coveys of a few dozen. As the breeding season, which begins in May, approaches, the birds form couples. As a pair, they establish a breeding territory, which they defend from other quails. California quails mate for life.

The quail pair builds a nest on the ground and begins mating. The females lay eggs in May, typically about 14. The female incubates them for about three weeks. The male feeds and protects the female and the nest with its eggs. He brings home dinner for both. Once born, the chicks follow their mother to a food source and dine while she protects them from predators.

They build their nests on the ground by scratching to dig an impression. The bird hides this home in foliage, typically grasses or scrubby shrubs. Quail perch on roofs, fences, and rocks, but these are their lookout spots. They don’t build homes at these heights.

Female California Quail with chick

Female California Quail with chick

Do California quails form communities?

California quails fly in flocks but break off and form nuclear families. Other quails and birds should not enter their "yard" – their breeding territory. After the birth of their young, they re-group to form nurseries. This helps the babies survive since they have all the community's adults watching out for predators.

Quail may protect their own territory from other quail, but they can share territory with other bird types. It isn't unusual to find a California quail incubating her eggs and other birds' eggs. These California quails lay their eggs in an established nest so that up to 28 eggs might sit beneath them, but only about half of them come from their genetics.

A flock of male and female California Quails

A flock of male and female California Quails

What do California quails eat?

The diet of the California quail consists mostly of seeds. They love eating lupine, geranium, pea, and clover. Berries also appeal to them, as do fruits and grains. These quail also munch on leaves and flowers. They require protein when breeding and consume invertebrates and small insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, crickets, and snails.

When they are born, baby California quails lack many of the digestive tract organisms they require for survival. They obtain these from their parents by eating the adult bird’s feces. They only consume the feces until they develop the organisms.

The Life of a California Quail

While you can make a California quail a pet, trapping a wild California quail isn’t recommended. Instead, choose a California quail from a breeder. They have only been partially domesticated, so information on keeping one as a pet won’t be as prevalent.

You should not capture a wild quail to try to make a pet out of it. These birds, like other wild birds, carry pests and diseases. Examine the breeder’s operation before adopting from them and check for clean enclosures, fresh food, and water, plus healthy birds.

This game bird doesn’t negatively impact humans in any way. Humans hunt this bird, though. They also breed them. The quail isn’t threatened. In fact, it appears on the state’s “Least Concern” list, meaning it lacks any threat to it and lives a safe existence.

You can attract these birds to your yard by putting up a bird feeder stocked with birdseed. Feeding them and attracting them to your yard makes a better choice than trying to make a pet out of one. This lets the birds come and go as they please but ensures that they have a ready food source. You should also provide clean, fresh water. This helps the birds survive the droughts that frequent the state.

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