Photographed at Bosque del Apache NWR where a large covey lives near the Visitor's Center.
Gambel’s Quail are gregarious birds of the desert Southwest, where coveys gather along brushy washes and cactus-studded arroyos to feed. Males and females both sport a bobbing black topknot of feathers. The male’s prominent black belly patch distinguishes it from the similar California Quail. This ground-hugging desert dweller would rather run than fly—look for these tubby birds running between cover or posting a lookout on low shrubs.
Birders in Hawaii may catch a glimpse of Gambel’s Quail on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano. The Hawaii Division of Fish and Game introduced this popular game bird (mostly from game farms) to all of the main Hawaiian Islands in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Today a few remain on the Big Island, as well as on Lanai and tiny Kaho’olawe.
Gambel’s Quail are part of the “scaled quail” complex, which also includes California Quail, Scaled Quail, and the Elegant Quail of northwest Mexico. The species hybridize in captivity and in the wild; you can find Gambel’s x California Quail hybrids where their ranges overlap in southeast California.
Like many desert-dwelling species, Gambel’s Quail populations undergo a “boom-and-bust” cycle. A year with ample winter-spring rainfall that generates lots of green vegetation will yield larger clutches and an abundance of chicks. Dry winters mean less food and lower productivity.
Just before her eggs hatch, the female Gambel’s Quail calls to the chicks, who cheep to each other from inside the eggs. The eggs hatch in synchrony, with the chick cutting a neat hole in the largest part of the shell and leaving an intact piece of membrane to serve as a “hinge” — the chick pushes on the shell and opens the “door” that it has created.
With a flash of white tail feathers and a flurry of dark-tipped wings, the Eurasian Collared-Dove settles onto phone wires and fence posts to give its rhythmic three-parted coo. This chunky relative of the Mourning Dove gets its name from the black half-collar at the nape of the neck. A few Eurasian Collared-Doves were introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970s. They made their way to Florida by the 1980s and then rapidly colonized most of North America.
Eurasian Collared-Doves made their way to North America via the Bahamas, where several birds escaped from a pet shop during a mid-1970s burglary; the shop owner then released the rest of the flock of approximately 50 doves. Others were set free on the island of Guadeloupe when a volcano threatened eruption. From these two sites the birds likely spread to Florida, and now occur over most of North America.
People have helped make the Eurasian Collared-Dove at home in North America. Bird feeders and trees planted in urban and suburban areas are cited as two of the main factors in the species’ colonization of the continent.
The Eurasian Collared-Dove’s species name, decaocto, comes from Greek mythology. Decaocto was a servant girl transformed into a dove by the gods to escape her unhappy treatment; the dove’s mournful cry recalls her former life.
While most birds meet their chicks’ protein needs with insects, doves feed their newly hatched chicks a fat- and protein-rich “crop milk.” This whitish fluid comes from liquid-filled cells that slough off the lining of the crop, a portion of the esophagus. After 5 or 10 days, the chicks switch to a diet of regurgitated seeds or fruit.
Eurasian Collared-Doves are one of very few species that can drink “head down,” submerging their bills and sucking water as though drinking through a straw. Most birds must scoop water and tip the head back to let it run down into the throat.
Cooper's Hawks love 'em.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR
A graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed dove that’s common across the continent. Mourning Doves perch on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground; their flight is fast and bullet straight. Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like laments. When taking off, their wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying. Mourning Doves are the most frequently hunted species in North America.
During the breeding season, you might see three Mourning Doves flying in tight formation, one after another. This is a form of social display. Typically the bird in the lead is the male of a mated pair. The second bird is an unmated male chasing his rival from the area where he hopes to nest. The third is the female of the mated pair, which seems to go along for the ride.
Mourning Doves tend to feed busily on the ground, swallowing seeds and storing them in an enlargement of the esophagus called the crop. Once they’ve filled it (the record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single crop!), they can fly to a safe perch to digest the meal.
Mourning Doves eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day, or 71 calories on average.
Perhaps one reason why Mourning Doves survive in the desert: they can drink brackish spring water (up to almost half the salinity of sea water) without becoming dehydrated the way humans would.
The Mourning Dove is the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. Every year hunters harvest more than 20 million, but the Mourning Dove remains one of our most abundant birds with a U.S. population estimated at 350 million.