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Gamble QuailGambel's Quail

(Callipepla gambelii)

The Gambel's Quail is a well known species in aviculture and in the wild. Also known as the Arizona, top-knot or desert quail, they are found in arid areas of the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. Gambel's Quail have also been successfully introduced to Lanai and Hawaii in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Paul Johnsgard describes seven subspecies, all of which are similar and I don't believe that the subspecies are differentiated in captive populations.

This species is often confused with the related Valley Quail. Males of both species share the black top-knot plume. Male Gambel's can be distinguished by having no scaling on the lower breast, but rather having a yellowish belly with a large black spot. The top of the head is rusty brown with a white border and a black face, forehead and chin; the back and upper breast is grayish brown with rusty brown flanks that have white streaks. Females also have a top-knot, but it is much smaller in size. Her overall coloration is similar to the male, but she lacks the black and white face, the black breast spot and the rust color on her is much lighter. The hen is also slightly smaller than the male.

In the wild, Gambel's Quail form large groups or coveys. Dr. Leland Hayes reported flocks as large as 200 during the winter in Arizona! During the spring, these large flocks break up and the males begin to draw females to their chosen territory. Fights between rival males can become quite vicious while they try to draw mates into their territories.


This species is a prolific layer in captivity and clutch sizes are quite large. Here in Missouri, I noticed that do not start laying until mid-May, but I'm sure it is much earlier in warmer climates. In the wild, the female does the incubating which lasts about 23 days. The male often stands close-by and helps with the brooding. I've yet to have a Gambel hen go broody in captivity, but they hatch well and the tiny chicks are easy to raise. They do grow fast, flying at about three weeks of age!

General Comments

This species is real joy to have in your aviary and the male's call reminds one of the old-west movies! They are very active and nervous, therefore require a larger pen than most quail. We keep our Gambel's on wire, but they do well on the ground in well drained pens. Our cages include many branches for perching and a pan of sand for a dust bath. We provide limbs of pine needles that the hens nest under.

Gambel's can be quite aggressive when adding new birds to an existing flock during the breeding season. If you must add a new bird, do so during the winter when they form coveys. It is also a good idea to keep many birds together during the cold months, this way they will naturally form a covey for warmth.

As a treat, we regularly provide our quail with spray millet and mealworms. Gamble Quail

This page is an excerpt from
The Game Bird and Waterfowl website
by Dan Cowell.
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