old world quail

New World quail

The New World quails are small birds only distantly related to the quails of the Old World, but named for their similar appearance and habits. The American species are in their own family Odontophoridae, whereas the Old World birds are in the pheasant family Phasianidae. The family ranges from Canada through to southern Brazil, and one species, the California Quail, has been successfully introduced to New Zealand. A variety of habitats are used by the family from tropical rainforest to deserts, although few species are capable of surviving at very low temperatures. There are 32 species in nine genera.

New World quails are generally short winged, necked and tailed (although the genus Dendrortyx is long-tailed). The bills are short, slightly curved and serrated. The legs are short and powerful, and lack the spurs of many Old World galliforms. Although they are capable of short bursts of strong flight New World quails prefer to walk, and will run from danger (or hide), taking off explosively only as a last resort. Plumage varies from dull to spectacular, and many species have ornamental crests or plumes on the head. There is moderate sexual dichromisim in plumage, with males having brighter plumage.

The New World quails are shy diurnal birds and generally live on the ground; even the tree quails which roost in high trees generally feed mainly on the ground. They are generalists with regards to their diet, taking insects, seeds, vegetation and tubers. Desert living species in particular take a lot of seeds.

Most of the information about the breeding biology of New World quails comes from North American species, which have been better studied than those of the Neotropics. The family is generally thought to be monogamous, and nest are constructed on the ground. Clutch sizes are large, a situation typical within the Galliformes, ranging from 3-6 eggs for the tree quails and wood quails, and as high as 10-15 for the Northern Bobwhite. incubation takes between 16-30 days depending on the species. Chicks are precocial and quickly leave the nest to accompany the parents in large family groups.

Northern Bobwhites and California Quail are popular gamebirds with many taken by hunters, but these species hav also had their ranges increased in order to meet hunting demand and are not threatened. Some species are threatened by human activity, such as the Bearded Tree Quail of Mexico, which is threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting.




  • del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (editors). (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 8487334156

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