Index of Species Information
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Callipepla squamata
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Sullivan, Janet. 1994. Callipepla squamata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name for scaled quail is Callipepla
squamata (Vigors). It is a member of the pheasant family (Phasianidae)
(Sibley and Monroe classify this group as Odontiphoridae) .
Subspecies listed by Johnsgard  include the following:
Callipepla squamata ssp. castanogastris Brewster (chestnut-bellied quail)
C. s. ssp. hargravei Rea
C. s. ssp. pallida Brewster
C. s. ssp. squamata (Vigors).
Scaled quail hybridize with Gambel's quail (C. gambelii) , and with
northern bobwhites (Collinus virginiana) where their ranges overlap
. Hybrids of scaled quail and elegant quail (C. douglasii) are
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Callipepla squamata
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Scaled quail occur from south-central Arizona, northern New Mexico,
east-central Colorado, and southwestern Kansas south through western
Oklahoma and western and central Texas into Mexico to northeastern
Jalisco, Guanajuato, Queretaru, Hidalgo, and western Tamaulipas. It has
been introduced to Hawaii, central Washington, eastern Nevada, and
Nebraska, but is only considered established in central Washington and
eastern Nevada [1,25].
Distribution of subspecies is as follows:
Callipepla squamata ssp. castanogastris occurs from southern Texas south
through Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and eastern Coahuila, Mexico.
C. s. hargravei is found in western Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas,
southeastern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and northwestern Texas.
C. s. pallida occurs from southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and
western Texas south to northern Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico.
C. s. squamata occurs in Mexico from northern Sonora and Tamaulipas
south to the Valley of Mexico .
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES40 Desert grasslands
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K027 Mesquite bosque
K040 Saltbush - greasewood
K053 Grama - galleta steppe
K054 Grama - tobosa prairie
K057 Galleta - three-awn shrubsteppe
K058 Grama - tobosa shrubsteppe
K060 Mesquite savanna
K061 Mesquite - acacia savanna
K087 Mesquite - oak savanna
SAF COVER TYPES :
66 Ashe juniper - redberry (Pinchot) juniper
239 Pinyon - juniper
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
PLANT COMMUNITIES :
According to Ligon , the distribution of scaled quail is largely
coextensive with mesquite (Prosopis spp.), condalia (Condalia spp.), and
cholla (Opuntia spp.).
In Oklahoma, scaled quail occur in sand sagebrush (Artemisia
filifolia)-grassland, pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.), and
shortgrass High Plains [1,6,24]. Sand sagebrush-grasslands include
sand sagebrush, soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca), skunkbush sumac (Rhus
trilobata), and sand plum (Prunus watsonii) . Scaled quail in
Oklahoma inhabit rough or rolling land, especially where sagebrush
(Artemisia spp.), mesquite, cactus (Opuntia spp. and others), yucca
(Yucca spp.), juniper, sand shinnery oak (Quercus havardii), and rocks
furnish cover .
In Colorado, scaled quail occupy sand sagebrush and/or yucca stands on
sandy soils . The cover types used by scaled quail in Colorado are,
in descending order, sand sagebrush-grassland, pinyon-juniper, dense
cholla-grassland, dryland farmland, irrigated farmland, and greasewood
(Sarcobatus spp.)-saltbush (Atriplex spp.) washes. Scaled quail made
little or no use of sparse cholla-grassland, riparian areas, reseeded
grasslands, or shortgrass prairie disclimax .
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Callipepla squamata
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS :
Breeding: In Arizona, pairing and maximum dispersal is complete by
mid-June. Nesting probably does not begin until early July . In
Oklahoma, egg laying usually starts in late April. Completed clutches
have been found as early as May 8 . Egg laying occurs from March to
June in Texas and Mexico, and from April to September in New Mexico
. Nests with eggs were reported as early as April 15 in New Mexico .
Clutch Size: Scaled quail lay from 9 to 16 eggs; most clutches are 12
to 14 eggs .
Incubation: Eggs are incubated by the female for 21 to 23 days.
Double-brooding (the production of two consecutive broods in one season)
is common . In west Texas, Wallmo  observed the male rearing
the first brood while the female began a second clutch. Sutton 
stated, however, that scaled quail in Oklahoma are probably
single-brooded, but have hatched broods as late as September 6. Ehrlich
and others  also list scaled quail as single-brooded.
Development of Young: The precocial young leave the nest shortly after
hatching. They are accompanied by at least one, usually both, parents,
who show them how to find food . The young fledge rapidly
(age at fledging not reported in the literature), and are adult size in
11 to 15 weeks [7,15].
Seasonal Movements: Scaled quail are fairly sedentary. The winter home
ranges of scaled quail coveys varied from 24 to 84 acres (9.6-33.6 ha).
The home ranges of separate coveys overlap only slightly or not at all
[15,24]. From September to November scaled quail coveys maintain stable
territories [11,24]. In Arizona, 75 to 90 percent of a population
apparently moved off of a breeding area by mid-November, moving to
nearby mountain foothills. The mountain habitat was consistent with
that found on the breeding area. In March the population on the
breeding area increased again, with most birds in groups of four to
Nonbreeding Behavior: The average winter covey size for scaled quail
is around 30 birds, although coveys of up to 150 birds have been
PREFERRED HABITAT :
Scaled quail inhabit dry, open valleys, plains, foothills, rocky slopes,
draws, gullies, and canyons that have a mixture of bare ground, low
herbaceous growth, and scattered brushy cover [6,7]. Good scaled quail
habitat is characterized by low-growing grasses with forbs and shrubs.
Overall ground cover is between 10 and 50 percent. Trees and shrubs
should be less than 6.6 feet (2 m) tall. Scaled quail avoid the dense
growth associated with streamsides. Transmitter-fitted scaled quail had
individual home range sizes of 52 and 60 acres (21 and 24 ha) .
An absolute requirement by scaled quail for a source of open water has
not been established; there is some debate in the literature whether
there is such a requirement [15,24]. Scaled quail have been reported as
inhabiting an area 7 or 8 miles (11.2-12.8 km) from the nearest water in
Arizona. In New Mexico, it was not unusual to find scaled quail 10 to 15
miles (16-24 km) from water . Wallmo  observed winter coveys 3
and 7 miles (1.8 and 11.2 km) from water in Big Bend National Park in
In Arizona, scaled quail summer habitat is seldom within 660 feet (200
m) of water. Scaled quail were observed drinking at stock tanks from
April to June (which was a dry period during the course of the study)
every 2 to 3 days . In Oklahoma, scaled quail often migrate to
farms and ranches in winter and are thus closer to a source of water in
winter than in summer . DeGraaf and others  reported that in
winter, scaled quail are usually found within 1.25 miles (2 km) of a
source of water.
COVER REQUIREMENTS :
Feeding Cover: Scaled quail use grass clumps and shrubs for cover while
feeding. In one study they were frequently seen crossing 82 to 165 feet
(25-50 m) of bare ground. When disturbed, scaled quail hid in snakeweed
(Gutierrezia spp.) or in grass clumps . In June and July foraging
occurs on open grasslands which are not used at other times .
Loafing Cover: Scaled quail coveys occupy loafing or resting cover
after early morning feeding periods. Scaled quail occupy desert
grassland or desert scrub with a minimum of one loafing covert per
approximately 70 acres (28 ha) [4,6,13]. In northwestern Texas, loafing
coverts were characterized by: (1) overhead woody cover, (2) lateral
screening cover, (3) a central area with bare soil, and (4) one or more
paths through the lateral cover. Covert heights ranged from 1.6 to 5.9
feet (0.5-1.8 m) and 2.6 to 6.9 feet (0.8-2.1 m) in diameter. Cholla
formed all or part of the overhead cover of 85 percent of coverts, even
though they were dominant at only 12 percent of the study locations. In
areas where scaled quail occur without cholla, woody species such as
wolfberry (Lycium spp.) and mesquite are important for overhead cover
. In Oklahoma pinyon-juniper habitats, scaled quail use the shade
of tree cholla (Opuntia imbricata) and human-made structures . In
Arizona, scaled quail occupied wolfberry and mesquite 1.7 to 5 feet
(0.5-1.5 m) tall for loafing cover. This overhead cover provides midday
shade, but is open at the base to allow easy escape from predators .
In Oklahoma, winter home ranges always contained skunkbush sumac, tree
cholla, or human-made structures providing overhead cover .
Night-roosting Cover: Scaled quail roosts were observed in yucca (Yucca
angustifolia), tree cholla, and true mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus
montanus)-yucca-fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) vegetation types. The
height of vegetation used for night roosts was less than 1.6 feet (0.5
Nesting Cover: In March or April winter coveys spread out into areas
with less cover. This use of areas with less cover coincides with a
seasonal decrease in the number of raptors in the same area .
Scaled quail nests are constructed under tufts of grasses, and are
sheltered by sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), creosotebush (Larrea
tridentata), mesquite, catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii), cactus, or yucca
; under dead Russian-thistle (Salsola kali), mixed forbs, or
soapweed yucca; or sheltered in old machinery or other human-made debris
. In Oklahoma, 66 percent of nests were in one of four situations:
(1) dead Russian-thistle, (2) machinery and junk, (3) mixed forbs, and
(4) soapweed yucca . In New Mexico, ordination of breeding birds
and vegetative microhabitats indicated that scaled quail were associated
with increased levels of patchiness and increased cover of mesquite and
FOOD HABITS :
Scaled quail are opportunistic eaters . Seeds are consumed
year-round. Large seeds (such as those of mesquite and snakeweed) are
important in scaled quail diets . Other seeds include those of
elbowbush (Adelia angustifolia), catclaw acacia , mesquite, hackberry
(Celtis spp.), Russian-thistle, rough pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus),
and sunflowers, ragweeds (Ambrosia spp.), and other Asteraceous plants
[6,30]. Scaled quail consume more grass seeds than do other quail
species . Other dietary components include leaves, fruits, and
insects. Summer diets are high in green vegetation and insects, which
are also important sources of moisture [11,19].
In Oklahoma, small groups of scaled quail feed among soapweed yucca and
in soapweed yucca-sand sagebrush ranges, weed patches, and grain
stubble. Also in Oklahoma, early winter foods apparently eaten when
other foods are not available included snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia
marginata), sand paspalum (Paspalum stramineum), field sandbur (Cenchrus
pauciflorus), purslane (Portulacca spp.), skunkbush sumac, Fendler
spurge (Euphorbia fendleri), and leaf bugs. Jimsonweed (Datura
stramonium) and juniper berries were always avoided . Winter foods
of the scaled quail in Oklahoma include Russian-thistle and sunflower
(Helianthus spp.) seeds .
In northwestern Texas, selection of foods by scaled quail was dependent
on foraging techniques, availability, and seed size. Small seeds were
selected when they were still on the plant and could be easily stripped,
but were not eaten once thay had fallen, presumably because they were
too small and/or too hard to find. Broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia
sarothrae) was a staple in winter diets; it was not highly selected but
was consumed in proportion to its availability (and lack of availability
of choice items) . Generally, in Texas grass seeds (mainly tall
dropseed [Sporobolus asper] and rough tridens [Tridens muticus]) were
major constituents of scaled quail diets. This was attributed to a
precipitation pattern that resulted in a relatively higher amount of
grass seed available, and a lower amount of available forbs. In the
same study green vegetation formed a higher proportion of the diet than
reported for other areas .
In southwestern Texas, chestnut-bellied scaled quail consumed woody
plant seeds and green vegetation. The seeds of brush species comprised
68 percent of the contents of 32 scaled quail crops. Green food,
chiefly wild carrot (Daucus carota) and clover (Trifolium spp.) made up
7.17 percent. Elbowbush was the single most important source, followed
by Roemer acacia (Acacia roemeriana), desert-yaupon (Schaefferia
cuneifolia), and spiny hackberry (Celtis pallida) .
In southeastern New Mexico, staples (comprising at least 5% of scaled
quail diet in both summer and winter) were mesquite and croton (Croton
spp.) seeds, green vegetation, and snout beetles. Nonpreferred foods
eaten in winter and available but not consumed in summer included broom
snakeweed (the main winter food), crown-beard (Verbesina encelioides),
cycloloma (Cycloloma atriplicifolium), and lace bugs. Mesquite seeds
and broom snakeweed seeds together made up 75 percent of the winter diet
. Grasshoppers were a summer staple. Insect galls, cicadas, scarab
beetles, spurge (Euphorbia spp.), plains bristlegrass (Setaria
macrostachya) seeds, and white ratany (Krameria grayi) were consumed in
a less pronounced seasonal pattern . Another study reported
substantial amounts of prairie sunflower seeds (Helianthus petiolaris)
and pigweed (Amaranthus spp.) seeds in the diet of scaled quail .
Scaled quail feed in alfalfa (Medicago spp.) fields .
In Arizona, potential scaled quail predators include mammals, birds, and
reptiles. Most scaled quail kills are made by avian predators
including northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), red-tailed hawk (Buteo
jamaicensis), American kestrel (Falco sparverius), prairie falcon (Falco
mexicanus), and great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) . In New
Mexico, predators on scaled quail include hawks, owls, coyote (Canis
latrans), and snakes . In Colorado, potential predators of scaled
quail include coyote, gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), red fox
(Vulpes vulpes), kit fox (V. velox), bobcat (Lynx rufus), northern
harrier, rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus), prairie falcon, peregrine
falcon (Falco peregrinus), American kestrel, golden eagle (Aquila
chrysaetos), and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) .
Scaled quail are popular gamebirds .
MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Scaled quail are more tolerant of grazing than other upland birds;
however, heavy livestock use in northwestern Texas reduced lateral cover
around loafing coverts. Such lateral cover is often composed of
Russian-thistle and grasses . Much scaled quail range has been
overgrazed by livestock. Desirable cover plants for scaled quail
include saltbushes (Atriplex spp.), which are consumed by livestock.
Reduction of saltbush cover reduces the scaled quail carrying capacity
of the range . Short-duration grazing has been hypothesized to
result in more uniform grazing pressure than other grazing rotations.
Uniform grazing pressure could degrade habitat quality for scaled quail
by reducing patchy ground cover .
In well-watered localities in New Mexico, moderate grazing may have a
beneficial effect on quail range by encouraging forbs and weeds that
provide a large portion of the scaled quail diet [4,19]. Saiwana 
reported that ranges on upland sandy areas in fair to good condition
provided optimum habitat for scaled quail in south-central New Mexico.
These ranges experienced moderate grazing by cattle (30 to 40% use of
grasses). This level of use maintains shrub-grass habitat which is
beneficial to scaled quail. Grasslands (without shrub cover) are much
less suitable for scaled quail .
McCormick  reported lower numbers of scaled quail on ranges cleared
of mesquite than on undisturbed mesquite range. Germano  reported
no differences in scaled quail numbers among range cleared of mesquite,
range with small, irregular clearings within mesquite, and undisturbed
mesquite. He did report significantly more scaled quail calls in
undisturbed mesquite than in mesquite-free range. This study was done
on a relatively small scale; the author speculated that the small sizes
of the clearings and of the mesquite-free range contributed to a more
uniform distribution of scaled quail than would be observed with larger
clearings . Davis and others  reported that mesquite and broom
snakeweed reduction projects may have an adverse effect on winter food
availability for scaled quail. They suggested that the grasses which
would increase in abundance following reduction of mesquite, including
plains bristlegrass, panic grasses (Panicum spp.), knotgrass (Paspalum
distichum), and barnyardgrass (Echinocloa crusgalli), are acceptable
substitutes for mesquite and broom snakeweed in scaled quail diets.
However, these grasses are usually replaced by climax grasses which are
not beneficial for scaled quail. The authors therefore recommended
leaving areas of mesquite and broom snakeweed for scaled quail cover and
food supply .
Scaled quail populations fluctuate widely and are adversely affected by
drought and by heavy rains .
In Colorado, the migration of winter coveys to farmlands (which renders
them inaccessible to hunting) was reduced by the development of good
winter habitat. This development included brush piles for overhead
cover, guzzlers (artificial sources of water, used by scaled quail for
both water and cover), and cover plantings around blow-outs .
Establishing natural cover is preferable to construction of artificial
cover. Brush, post, and board piles, however, are inexpensive and
readily used by scaled quail [24,26].
Recommended scaled quail habitat consists of successional stages with
annual and perennial forbs and some food-producing shrubs. A patchwork
of short grasses, tall grasses and forbs, and woody cover is ideal .
Recommendations for cover improvement in Oklahoma include maintaining
natural cover by fencing off four-wing saltbush and skunkbrush to
protect them from trampling and grazing by cattle, and establishing
artificial cover . Any area to be managed for scaled quail should
include at least one loafing covert per 52 to 70 acres (20-28 ha), or
the average size of a covey home range .
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Callipepla squamata
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS :
No information concerning the direct effect of fire on scaled quail was
available in the literature. Adult birds could easily escape fire,
although their habit of running rather than flying when disturbed may
render them slightly more vulnerable than other gallinaceous birds.
Nests are probably vulnerable to fire, but since scaled quail nest
during the summer rains there is a low probability of wildfire during
Gallinaceous birds are attracted to fires and fresh burns where dead
insects and seeds are abundant .
HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS :
Wright and Bailey  stated that fire, by favoring low growing shrubs
and grasses over dense brush, would probably be beneficial to scaled
In a study to assess the effects of fire (used to control Pinchot
juniper [Juniperus pinchotii]) on scaled quail habitat, populations of
scaled quail on 3- and 7-year-old burns were compared with populations
on unburned pastures. Scaled quail on the 3-year-old burn had diets of
materials which were coarser and less digestible than those on the
7-year-old burn or on unburned areas. Scaled quail on the 3-year-old
burn had lower amounts of stored fat than those on the 7-year-old burn
or on unburned areas. The lower lipid reserves were attributed to the
lower quality diet and reduced roosting areas associated with the more
recent burn [17,18]. Common broomweed (Amphyiachyrus dracunculoides)
comprised 40 percent of scaled quail diets on 4-year-old burns .
FIRE USE :
Brush control in rangelands often includes the use of fire. Any
prescribed burning for brush control in scaled quail habitat should be
conducted so as not to eliminate the type of cholla cover used as
loafing coverts . Cactus species vary in their response to fire.
Fire effects on cacti also depend on the size of individual plants .
Tree cholla (valuable for cover) experienced 73 percent mortality of
short plants and 27 percent mortality of tall plants as measured 3 years
after a prescribed fire . Scaled quail will use dead cholla for
cover; however, fire-caused necrosis of lower limbs could prevent the
formation of adequate lateral cover, particularly where cattle are
present. High-crowned shrubs without lateral cover were not used by
scaled quail for resting coverts from January to early May .
Prescribed burning of pastures to control prickly pear (Opuntia spp.)
should be conducted so that 1-acre (0.4 ha) plots of prickly pear, with
clumps 100 yards (90 m) apart, are left for quail cover .
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 scaled quail to fire. See the
Research Project Summary of this work for more information on
scaled quail and more than 100 additional species of birds, small
mammals, grasshoppers, and herbaceous and woody plant species.
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Callipepla squamata
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