Odontophoridae – New World Quails

California Quail Callipepla californica ©Brocken Ina Glory (Creative Commons) Website

The Odontophoridae or New World quails are small birds only distantly related to the Old World quail, but named for their similar appearance and habits. The American species are in their own family Odontophoridae, whereas Old World quail are in the pheasant family Phasianidae. The family ranges from Canada through to southern Brazil, and two species, the California Quail and the Bobwhite Quail, have been successfully introduced to New Zealand. The Stone Partridge and Nahan’s Partridge, both found in Africa, seem to belong to the family. Species are found throughout 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. Thirty-four species are placed in ten genera.

New World quail 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 galliformes. 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 dichromism 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 species in particular consume 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 three to six eggs for the tree quail and wood quail, and as high as 10-15 for the Northern Bobwhite. Incubation takes between 16 and 30 days depending on the species. Chicks are precocial and quickly leave the nest to accompany the parents in large family groups.

Northern Bobwhite and California Quail are popular gamebirds, with many taken by hunters, but these species have also had their ranges increased to meet hunting demand and are not threatened. They are also artificially stocked. Some species are threatened by human activity, such as the bearded tree quail of Mexico, which is threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting.

The IOC assess there to be 34 species in this family, which are:

Stone Partridge Ptilopachus petrosus
Nahan’s Partridge Ptilopachus nahani

Bearded Wood Partridge Dendrortyx barbatus
Long-tailed Wood Partridge Dendrortyx macroura
Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge Dendrortyx leucophrys

Mountain Quail Oreortyx pictus

Scaled Quail Callipepla squamata
Elegant Quail Callipepla douglasii
California Quail Callipepla californica
Gambel’s Quail Callipepla gambelii

Banded Quail Philortyx fasciatus

Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus
Yucatan Bobwhite Colinus nigrogularis
Spot-bellied Bobwhite Colinus leucopogon
Crested Bobwhite Colinus cristatus

Marbled Wood Quail Odontophorus gujanensis
Spot-winged Wood Quail Odontophorus capueira
Black-eared Wood Quail Odontophorus melanotis
Rufous-fronted Wood Quail Odontophorus erythrops
Black-fronted Wood Quail Odontophorus atrifrons
Chestnut Wood Quail Odontophorus hyperythrus
Dark-backed Wood Quail Odontophorus melanonotus
Rufous-breasted Wood Quail Odontophorus speciosus
Tacarcuna Wood Quail Odontophorus dialeucos
Gorgeted Wood Quail Odontophorus strophium
Venezuelan Wood Quail Odontophorus columbianus
Black-breasted Wood Quail Odontophorus leucolaemus
Stripe-faced Wood Quail Odontophorus balliviani
Starred Wood Quail Odontophorus stellatus
Spotted Wood Quail Odontophorus guttatus

Singing Quail Dactylortyx thoracicus

Montezuma Quail Cyrtonyx montezumae
Ocellated Quail Cyrtonyx ocellatus

Tawny-faced Quail Rhynchortyx cinctus

Species Links
  • California Quail Callipepla californica

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • California Quail Callipepla californica

    Species Account
    The California quail (Callipepla californica), also known as the California valley quail or valley quail, is a small ground-dwelling bird in the New World quail family.
  • California Quail Callipepla californica

    Cornell Species Account
    The California Quail is a handsome, round soccer ball of a bird with a rich gray breast, intricately scaled underparts, and a curious, forward-drooping head plume.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 34

Useful Reading
  • Pheasants, Partridges & Grouse

    A Guide to the Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Grouse, Guineafowl, Buttonquails and Sandgrouse of the World by Steve Madge & Phil McGowan Helm 2002 ISBN: 0713639660 Buy this book from NHBS.com

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