WatchList Species Account for Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species


Mountain Quail
Photo: Peter LaTourrette

This secretive bird, the largest quail north of Mexico, inhabits dense cover in the wooded foothills and thick shrub habitats in the mountain ranges of western North America – primarily the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and Coast Ranges, but with disjunct populations in the Intermountain West and Baja California. Its occurs at elevations of 2,297 to over 9,800 feet.


Five subspecies have been defined, but changes in traits seem clinal and many or all of these taxonomic distinctions may be artificial. It is notable among quail for its extensive elevational migrations and its almost exclusive reliance on plant material for food.


The species has been poorly monitored, but appears to have significantly declined in certain parts of its range. Urbanization in the mountains of Southern California has destroyed habitat for the quail there, and increased development in the Sierra Nevada has decreased winter habitat for the species.


Livestock watering tanks in arid regions are beneficial to the birds, but heavy livestock grazing can reduce the amount of food available to them. Translocating Mountain Quail to areas within their historic range has been attempted in some states, but the results of such actions is not yet known. Hunting is banned in areas where the species is in decline.