NEW WORLD QUAILS – Odontophoridae



These small birds have plump bodies and short wings. They weigh 4 to 16 ounces (125 to 465 grams) and measure 7 to 15 inches (17 to 37 centimeters). Males are slightly larger and, in some species, have slightly more dramatic plumage (feather) coloring. Many species have red rings around the eyes, and some have crests on their heads ranging from tiny tufts of hair to long feathers. Quail bills have serrated (sharply notched) edges. Legs are strong to help in running, digging, and scratching.


New World quails are native to North, Central, and South America, though they have been introduced elsewhere.


New World quails occupy a vast array of habitats. Bobwhites live in ranges from grassland to woodland edge while other species prefer the desert. Others are found in mountain, tropical, and subtropical forests. Quail often make their homes on agricultural land.


New World quails scratch for seeds from grasses, trees, and shrubs. Those who live on agricultural land eat leftover grain seeds as well as corn, wheat, peanuts, and black bean crops. Those birds in tropical forests dig for plant roots, and some species feed on bulbs. Chicks eat mostly invertebrates (animals without backbones).


Nearly every species of New World quail forms coveys (KUHveez; small flocks). Though experts once thought coveys were family units, it is now believed that covey members are adult pairs as well as helpers from previous clutches (number of birds hatched at one time).

These birds are most active during the day and spend the majority of their time on the ground. Some forest species roost (rest) in trees. Although none of these quail are migratory (travel seasonally from region to region), those that live in mountain regions may move to different altitudes with the seasons.

New World quails call and whistle to each other, with the bobwhite having the most varied calling habits. Predators include birds of prey, weasels, and foxes. Skunks, raccoons, snakes, coyotes, and possums prey on quail eggs.

Reproduction of the quail has not been studied in depth. Though they were once believed to be monogamous (muh-NAHguh-mus; have only one mate), evidence is proving that theory wrong. At least with the bobwhite, it seems the mating system is flexible, and the birds alternate between monogamy, polygyny (puh-LIH-juh-nee; one male to several females), polyandry (PAH-lee-an-dree; one female to several males), and promiscuity (prah-MISS-kyoo-ih-tee; indiscrimate mating where individuals mate with as many other individuals as they want).

Clutch size varies with the species, with tropical and forest birds having smaller clutches of three to six eggs. Nests are bowl-like and built on the ground. Sometimes vegetation is used to cover the nest for safety purposes. Though not well described for many species, incubation (warmth sufficient for hatching) takes sixteen to thirty days. Chicks are able to leave the nest within hours of hatching and begin to fly in less than two weeks. Twenty to fifty percent of all chicks die from predation.


Most species are hunted for sport or food.


Conservation status varies. Those living in mild-weather regions and grasslands are common and not threatened. Forest species also seem to adapt well to human impact and are maintaining their populations. The status of the Latin American species is difficult to assess because research into their status has been minimal. The bearded woo-partridge, for example, was considered Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, in 1995 but has been recategorized as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, due to the discovery of several small and separate populations.