Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Cyrtonyx montezumae


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Cyrtonyx montezumae
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Sullivan, Janet. 1994. Cyrtonyx montezumae. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : CYMO COMMON NAMES : Montezuma quail harlequin quail fool quail TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for Montezuma quail is Cyrtonyx montezumae (Vigors). It is a member of the pheasant family, Phasianidae [10,17,20]. Subspecies accepted by some authorities include: C. m. ssp. mearnsi Nelson Mearn's quail [10] C. m. ssp. merriami Nelson Merriam's Montezuma quail [10] C. m. ssp. montezumae (Vigors) [10,17] C. m. ssp. rowleyi Phillips [10] C. m. ssp. sallei Verreaux Salle's quail [10,17] ORDER : Galliformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : Merriam's Montezuma quail is Endangered [23]. OTHER STATUS : Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Cyrtonyx montezumae
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The Montezuma quail is resident locally from central and southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and extreme southwestern Texas south in Mexico to Oaxaca [6,18].  Distributions of subspecies are as follows [10]: Cyrtonyx montezumae ssp. mearnsi occurs from west-central Texas, central New Mexico, and central Arizona south to northern Coahuila. Cyrtonyx montezumae ssp. merriami occurs in Veracruz, in the vicinity of Mount Orizaba. Cyrtonyx montezumae ssp. montezumae occurs in Michoacan, Oaxaca, Distrito Federal, Hidalgo, Puebla, northern and eastern Nuevo Leon, and west-central Tamaulipas. Cyrtonyx montezumae ssp. rowleyi occurs in Guerreo. Cyrtonyx montezumae ssp. sallei occurs from Michoacan south through Guerreo to east-central Oaxaca. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES21 Ponderosa pine STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     7  Lower Basin and Range    13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K019  Arizona pine forest SAF COVER TYPES :    237  Interior ponderosa pine    241  Western live oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Montezuma quail are found in pine-oak (Pinus spp.-Quercus spp.) woodlands and oak scrub with an understory of bunchgrasses and forbs [6,10,17].  The range of Montezuma quail ends at the pine-oak woodlands of central Mexico and similar oak woods in the southwestern United States.  In Arizona, Montezuma quail occur primarily in oak-grasslands, and in New Mexico they are restricted to montane habitats in scattered mountain ranges dominated by rank grasses [10].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Cyrtonyx montezumae
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Nesting:  The breeding season of Montezuma quail is relatively late; monogamous pairing occurs from March to May and nesting occurs from late June to as late as the last half of September.  This timing coordinates with timing of summer rains, which increase plant growth and insects [10,14]. Clutch Size and Incubation:  Montezuma quail clutches range in size from 6 to 14 eggs, with an average clutch of 11 eggs [14].  For captive birds, eggs were laid at a rate of about one egg every 3 days, which is probably slower than for wild birds [10].  Incubation takes 25 or 26 days, with minor participation by the male.  Males are the primary defenders of the nest [7]. Development of Young:  Newly hatched chicks are mobile and downy.  They follow their parents, who show them how to find food [7].  The chicks eat insects, seeds, and bulbs [10].  Fledging occurs about 10 days after hatching [7].  Young birds forage independently by 2 weeks of age.  For captive birds, adult weights are reached by about 10 to 11 weeks of age [10]. Covey Formation:  Most fall coveys are composed of family units [10] and range in size from 6 to 10 birds.  Coveys occupy relatively small home ranges [7].  Leopold and McCabe [14] estimated that ranges encompassed an area 200 yards (180 m) in radius.  They reported, however, that coveys tended to move over a wider range for a short period in autumn before establishing the home range [14]. PREFERRED HABITAT : The Montezuma quail prefers shaded grassy oak canyons, wooded mountain slopes with bunchgrasses and bulb-producing forbs in the understory, and rocky ravines [6].  Breeding habitat is the same [7]. Montezuma quail are found from from 3,500 to 10,000 feet (1,060-3,000 m) in elevation [10,17].  There is some altitudinal migration with the season; upward movements in the summer probably do not exceed a few miles [10]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Hiding Cover:  Montezuma quail are typically associated with dense, tall grasses; foraging for bulbs occurs almost exclusively from grass cover that is at least 1 foot (0.3 m) tall [1]. Nesting cover:  Montezuma quail nests are depressions scratched in the ground at the base of trees, next to boulders, under shrubs, or in grassy meadows [66].  They are lined and covered with dry grasses [18]. FOOD HABITS : Montezuma quail coveys feed in close groups by digging bulbs, foraging for fruit, and ground-gleaning for seeds and insects.  The bulk of the winter diet is comprised of bulbs of succulent forbs [6].  Winter foods in order of importance include the bulbs of chufa flatsedge (Cyperus esculentus), nutgrass (Cyperus rotunda) and other sedges (Cyperus spp.), acorns, sunflower (Helianthus spp.) seeds, Brodiaea spp.  bulbs, and prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) [10,14,15].  Acorns of Gambel oak (Quercus gambellii) are important in southeastern Arizona; in one study acorns made up as much as 40 percent of Montezuma quail diets [2,16]. In summer, woodsorrel (Oxalis spp.) bulbs are consumed [15].  Additional foods include seeds of legumes, grasses, and true pinyon (Pinus edulis), and juniper (Juniperus spp.) "berries" [18]. According to Martin and others [15] the animal portion of the winter diet of Montezuma quail is limited.  Animals taken include beetles (particularly ground beetles, darkling beetles, and weevils), caterpillars, fly larvae, spiders, and centipedes [15].  Animal foods are taken in quantity during the summer months, or whenever available [10,14]. If the supply of succulent foods is adequate, the Montezuma quail can manage without access to surface water [10,14]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Management of Montezuma quail includes maintenance of winter habitat since this quail is a year-round resident.  Winter habitat requirements include areas where bulbs and acorns are available [7]. Montezuma quail density even in good habitat is usually low; an estimate of one bird per 10 hectare was reported for northern Chihuahua [14]. Populations of Montezuma quail in undisturbed habitat tend to fluctuate annually; reproductive success is positively correlated with the amount of summer precipitation in any given year.  Any factors reducing the amount of tall grass cover have an adverse effect on Montezuma quail. In western Texas, the Montezuma quail is now only local and rare because a large percentage of its native range has disappeared due to overgrazing [10].  Heavy grazing reduces tall grass cover and increases patchiness of the remaining cover.  Grazing 46 to 50 percent of an area produces marginal conditions for Montezuma quail; heavier grazing eliminates the quail [1]. Reducting Gambel oak stands for timber or grazing improvements could reduce habitat value by reducing the acorns available for Montezuma quail and other wildlife species in autumn and winter [16].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Cyrtonyx montezumae
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : No specific information on the direct effect of fire on Montezuma quail was available in the literature.  Even though this species inhabits areas that experience moderately frequent fire, it is unlikely that direct mortality from fire is a major threat to Montezuma quail.  Adult birds would easily escape fire, and young birds are flightless for only a very short time.  Nests and young birds may be vulnerable to fire, but nesting usually occurs when summer rains make fires unlikely. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Fire stimulates sprouting of Gambel oak, and may therefore result in an increase in acorn availability [5].  The ponderosa pine-grasslands or ponderosa pine-Gambel oak woodlands which Montezuma quail inhabits are maintained by frequent fire.  In many areas of the Southwest, fires in ponderosa pine-grasslands occurred almost annually during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In areas where the landscape is more dissected, fire-free intervals were generally 25 to 40 years.  Wildfire suppression, coupled with grazing, has led to pronounced changes in the character and physiognomy of ponderosa pine woodlands.  Increased shrub and tree density and conversion of woodland to forest have led to increased risk of intense, catastrophic wildfires [21]. FIRE USE : Prescribed fire can be used to stimulate sprouting of Gambel oak, a species that may be important in Montezuma quail diets.  Prescribed fire can be used to maintain ponderosa pine-Gambel oak or ponderosa pine-grasslands in an open condition, which would improve habitat for Montezuma quail [21].  Prescribed fire is sometimes used, however, to reduce cover, density, and frequency of Gambel oak.  According to Clary and Tiedemann [5], elimination of Gambel oak eliminates wildlife habitat and represents short-sighted management. An extensive body of research has been published on fire effects on animals in semidesert grassland, oak savanna, and Madrean oak woodlands of southeastern Arizona, including the response of Montezuma quail to fire. See the Research Project Summary of this work for more information on Montezuma quail and more than 100 additional species of birds, small mammals, grasshoppers, and herbaceous and woody plant species.


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Cyrtonyx montezumae
REFERENCES :  1.  Albers, Randy P.; Gehlbach, Frederick R. 1990. Choices of feeding        habitat by relict Montezuma quail in central Texas. Wilson Bulletin.        102(2): 300-308.  [22954]  2.  Bishop, Richard A.; Hungerford, Charles R. 1965. Seasonal food selection        of Arizona Mearns quail. Journal of Wildlife Management. 29(4): 813-819.        [22955]  3.  Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals,        reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's        associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO:        U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p.        [434]  4.  Brown, David E. 1979. Factors influencing reproductive success and        population densities in Montezuma quail. Journal of Wildlife Management.        43(2): 522-526.  [22956]  5.  Clary, Warren P.; Tiedemann, Arthur R. 1992. Ecology and values of        Gambel oak woodlands. In: Ffolliott, Peter F.; Gottfried, Gerald J.;        Bennett, Duane A.; [and others], technical coordinators. Ecology and        management of oaks and associated woodlands: perspectives in the sw        United States & n Mexico: Proceedings; 1992 April 27-30; Sierra Vista,        AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-218. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment        Station: 87-95.  [19746]  6.  DeGraaf, Richard M.; Scott, Virgil E.; Hamre, R. H.; [and others]. 1991.        Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and        habitat use. Agric. Handb. 688. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service. 625 p.  [15856]  7.  Ehrlich, Paul R.; Dobkin, David S.; Wheye, Darryl. 1988. The birder's        handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds.        New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 785 p.  [21559]  8.  Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and        Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p.  [905]  9.  Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others].        1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range        ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p.  [998] 10.  Johnsgard, Paul A. 1988. The quails, partridges, and francolins of the        world. New York: Oxford University Press. 264 p.  [16199] 11.  Kruse, William H. 1992. Quantifying wildlife habitats within Gambel        oak/forest/woodland vegetation associations in Arizona. In: Ffolliott,        Peter F.; Gottfried, Gerald J.; Bennett, Duane A.; [and others],        technical coordinators. Ecology and management of oak and associated        woodlands: perspectives in the sw United States & n Mexico: Proceedings;        1992 April 27-30; Sierra Vista, AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-218. Fort        Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky        Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 182-186.  [19762] 12.  Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation        of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York:        American Geographical Society. 77 p.  [1384] 13.  Leopold, A. Starker; Gutierrez, Ralph J.; Bronson, Michael T. 1981.        North American game birds and mammals. New York: Charles Scribner &        Sons. 198 p.  [22815] 14.  Leopold, A. Starker; McCabe, Robert A. 1957. Natural history of the        Montezuma quail in Mexico. Condor. 59(1): 3-26.  [22957] 15.  Martin, Alexander C.; Zim, Herbert S.; Nelson, Arnold L. 1951. American        wildlife and plants. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 500 p.        [4021] 16.  Reynolds, Hudson G.; Clary, Warren P.; Ffolliott, Peter F. 1970. Gambel        oak for Southwestern wildlife. Journal of Forestry. 68(9): 545-547.        [1960] 17.  Sibley, Charles G.; Monroe, Burt L., Jr. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy        of the birds of the world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 1111 p.        [22814] 18.  Terres, John K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American        birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1109 p.  [16195] 19.  U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982.        National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names.        SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p.  [11573] 20.  American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Checklist of North American birds.        6th ed. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press, Inc. 877 p.  [21234] 21.  Peet, Robert K. 1988. Forests of the Rocky Mountains. In: Barbour,        Michael G.; Billings, William Dwight, eds. North American terrestrial        vegetation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press: 63-101.        [6714] 23.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Listed animals. In: Environmental Conservation Online System, [Online]. In: Species reports. Available: [86534]

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