A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Plump and gregarious, and sporting a handsome topknot, California Quail is our state bird. Often seen in groups of about 20-30 birds, or in family groups in the spring and early summer, but may be found alone with a mate or solitary. Prefers brushy cover near woodland edges, but also a common suburban inhabitant and regular feeder visitor. Often seen scurrying along roadsides or the edges of fields. Prefers to flee on foot, but will fly when startled or if it feels threatened. Among our most common birds. The most similar bird is Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii), which does not occur in Sonoma County (its range lies far to the south and east). Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) is our only other quail, but that bird is restricted to wooded areas at higher elevations and is very secretive (seen even less often than it's heard). Female California Quail (below) is similar to the male, but duller in color. Some birds may have a double plume. California Quail has a call that carries long distances. Said to sound like Chi-CA-go! Some people hear other three-syllable words. Makes a variety of clucking sounds. Males often stand guard for their mates and babies, making quite a lot of noise if they feel the family is threatened. Breeds in much of the county. In good years, will have two clutches. My own observations suggest some birds may have had three clutches in 2010. Has recovered from serious over-hunting through the first third of the 20th century.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 45

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 168

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 58

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 66

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 54

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 83

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 264

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 127

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 69

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 146

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 34-35

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 11

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 62

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 166

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 133

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 70

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 24

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--California Quail



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Male California Quail, Stone Castle Lane, Santa Rosa, April 23, 2012

Female California Quail, Spring Lake, Santa Rosa, October 4, 2012

California Quail

Callipepla californica

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County