A Year in the Life of Gambel’s Quail Presented by Doris Evans

Pam Boedeker

For the ninth year, Doris Evans was the June speaker for SaddleBrooke Nature Club. Her slide presentations are always the highlight of our year.

Doris has been introduced so many times there is little left that hasn’t been said. Basically, Doris has been an educator all of her life, be it with elementary schools, the Desert Museum, Arizona Wild Cats Program, national parks, local parks, or the Audubon Society.

Now somewhat retired, Doris’ love for and interest in desert wildlife has turned her backyard into a nature lab. With her handy GoPro and Polaroid Cube cameras, she has recorded the private lives of critters most of us have never seen.

This year, Doris’ cameras focused on the Gambel’s Quail. It is the only quail living in the Sonoran Desert. It is also the only gallinaceous (heavy bodied, ground feeding) bird living in the Sonoran Desert.

The beloved Gambel’s Quail is about 10 inches in length. They mostly eat plants. Amazingly, they have 11 different calls. The males are more noticeable with their cinnamon crown, outlined eyes, black markings, and a mult-feathered top-notch.


In the spring, we first start seeing the quail up in the trees eating the delectable, new, green growth. They are building up their bodies for mating season. The male has a distinctive call at this time of year.

The female chooses the nest location on the ground. She will lay 10 to 12 eggs over several days and then incubate them for 21 to 22 days. Eggs are white splotched with brown. They are slightly bigger around than a quarter. The chicks can be heard chirping inside the eggs.

When the chicks hatch, they immediately join their parents and leave the nest. They stay with their parents for three months.

For the first couple weeks, they need the insulation of their parents’ bodies. They can fly short distances in one to two weeks.


The chicks now have feathers and tails. They can be seen following their parents. It is estimated that only 15% of the chicks survive to be adults.

The quail give themselves dust baths to help reduce the excess oil from their feathers.

During monsoons, you will see the quail come out after the rains looking a little bedraggled.


The chicks are now fully grown. They will join a flock and begin life as an adult.

Quail are not accomplished flyers. They do what they can to get up into trees.

They are monogamous, only taking a new mate if their mate dies.

They have short lives of only a few years.


During the winter season, we see the quail in large flocks sometimes huddled together.

Doris had remarkable photos and film of the quail at each of these stages. She was persistent enough to get footage of eggs hatching in two different nests.

A round of applause for Doris.

SaddleBrooke Nature Club meets the second Monday at 4 p.m. virtually until further notice.