Home | Bird Behavior | Aviary Birds – Keeping and Breeding the California or Valley Quail – Part 2

Aviary Birds – Keeping and Breeding the California or Valley Quail – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for more information on caring for California Quail (Callipepla californica).  I’ll continue here with breeding and introduce the closely related Gambel’s or Desert Quail (C. gambelii).


California QuailCalifornia Quails breed readily when housed in a tranquil, well-planted aviary (only one pair per aviary may be kept) that allows for nesting below shrubs or among tall grass clumps.  Hens in peak condition may produce clutches of up to 20 eggs, with a second likely if the first is pulled for artificial incubation (for a possible total of 40 eggs per season!). 

The chicks hatch after an incubation period of 23 days, and are usually well-cared for by the parents.  Commercial chick or pheasant rearing mixes can form the base of the diet.  Chopped greens, insects, hard-boiled egg and Egg Food are essential if the chicks are to thrive.


California Quail hybridize with Gambel’s, Bob-White, Douglas, Scaled and Mountain Quail, producing a range of interestingly-patterned hybrids.

Gambel’s Quail

California QuailMany feel that this quail is even more beautiful than its cousin the California Quail.  I’ve never been able to choose one over the other, although a covey of wild Gambel’s Quails I encountered in Baja California were surely among the most spectacular birds I’ve seen.  You can, however, have the best of both, as the two species hybridize regularly in captivity and where their ranges overlap in the wild (Baja California and Sonora, Northern Mexico).

The Gambel’s Quail occurs from Southern Nevada and Southwestern Utah through Southwestern New Mexico and West Texas to Northwestern Mexico.  As its alternate name, Desert Quail, suggests, it is indeed a bird of hot, dry habitats, but is usually found near a permanent source of water.  They have been introduced to Hawaii, of all places!

Gambel’s Quail may be kept and bred as described here for California Quail (Please see Part I also).  Oddly for a quail, hens sometimes nest on broken stumps and in other elevated sites.

This species is very well-suited for aviaries housing finches, softbills and other perching birds, but mated pairs will attack other quails and ground-dwelling birds.

Further Reading

You can read more about the habits and care of the Gambel’s Quail here.

A video of a group of California Quail in a commercial aviary is posted here.


Gemble’s Quail Pair image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Valerie Everett


  1. avatar

    I have aquestion.I have a Gambels quail who nested and laid eggs on a shelf in a bowl of cactus.She sat the nest for about 2 weeks.5 eggs were there.She left it 2 days ago.Is this normal for them?WIll they hatch if not brooded?

  2. avatar

    Hello Dee, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Usually the hen will not return; unfortunately the eggs will not hatch if not brooded. Quail and other birds will abandon the nest if the eggs do not hatch (usually due to being infertile) within the normal incubation period; Gambel’s Quail incubate for approximately 23 days – the fact that she left earlier might indicate that something disturbed her; it’s also not unusual for inexperienced hens to abandon their early clutches.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Thanks so much for the prompt information.I suspected that they were infertile.She was a fledgling and I never saw a mate.It was exciting but as the nest was several feet of the ground i was not sure it would work out for her.I am blessed to live near Sabino Canyon in Tucson.It is a birders paradise.I provide shelter,water and food for many birds and love the Gambels.They are such interesting creatures . So I shoule now remove the eggs?

  4. avatar

    Hello Dee,

    I’m sure that was it…sometimes best to keep sexes separate until they mature, but not critical; just be sure to feed them well, and include lots of Calcium as a young female faces the double Calcium drain of growth and egg production. Best to remove the eggs as they will draw Phorid flies and other pests.

    Beautiful country there for sure – I can’t imagine what it would be like to have Gambel’s Quail and other such birds as backyard visitors!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    I have been lucky enough in Australia, to breed naturally from our pair Californian Quail and we have 7 babies about 4 weeks old, In Australia it’s very rare to breed them as incubating of egg’s has resulting in the quail losing there natural breeding skills. 17 eggs where layed originally in a nest 1 metre off the ground in a large box about 1 metre square, which I dropped down to ground level near hatching time. So the babies wouldn’t fall to there death when hatched. Is this natural and do you have any tips on care, as in the last 20 years in Australia very few people have been able to breed these great birds

  6. avatar

    Hi Allan,

    Nice to hear, congrats; much of Australia would seem ideal for them. They do nest naturally on the ground, usually below a shrub…adding ground cover such as tall grass clumps, bushes, dead logs may encourage them to do so next time. Most adults are easily stressed by too much activity and the threat of predators. The chick are sensitive to dampness (not a problem in most of Australia, i hear!) and drafts. They need a plentiful supply of small seeds (as one would use for finches), finely ground game bird chow or crumbles, and need lots of protein…hard boiled egg, insectivorous bird diet if available, small grubs, some cooked, ground beef; chopped greens should also be offered, cuttlebone should be mixed in with the food and grit should always be available. calcium need are high, so be sure they are eating the ground cuttlebone,. or add a CA supplement. Enjoy and pl kee me posted,. frank

  7. avatar

    Thanks Findiviglio
    I’m keen to try some of your dietary tips. Hopefully more people in Australia can get to enjoy these great birds. Its sad it is so rare to find [in Australia] natural breeding birds.

  8. avatar

    Hi Allen,

    Please let me know how all goes. I think here in the states the chicks are not given the extra food items needed, especially insects; protein and Calcium deficiencies are likely the main problems seen. It seems that Australian bird keepers have more interest in softbills, finches, and others than fo most folks here in the US, where parrots predominate the trade. Given the climate, it would be great to see more folks keeping these birds, and breeding some of the rarer species that zoos do not focus on. I suppose import regs get in the way?…Australia has done better than most countries re controlling imports/exports, but of course that can also limit what res[responsible aviculturists are able to do. Best, Frank

  9. avatar


    I live in Australia and californian quails seem difficult to find and very expensive to buy. My fiance and I currently keep a small flock of chickens but would love to start a small breeding group of californian quails. I’m currently in the research phase before making a purchase on some eggs to incubate but I’m hearing a lot about these birds having fertility problems, but no answers on how to get them to achieve high fertility. Do you know if these fertility problems just refer to low hatch rates or are there specific requirements in order to get the actual birds’ fertility levels high for breeding? I’ll be placing orders for fertile eggs as soon as I have enough info (such as the fertility questions) on these birds, so any help would be amazingly appreciated!


  10. avatar

    Hi Samantha,

    Nice to hear of your interest…wonderful birds, esp if you can keep outdoors. fertility varies greatly, seems related to original parent stock, inbreeding. It may be more common in Australia due to the difficulty in importing new birds to improve the genetics of the resident birds. Proper husbandry and diet will maximize fertility, as you’ll know from working with chickens, but I don’t believe there’s any way to affect problems caused by inbreeding, etc. Buying from widely separated breeders may help, as will discussing, with breeders, the source of their birds.

    This article is not about cal quails specifically, but most of the info is applicable.

    Pl let me know if you need more info, and keep me posted, Enjoy, Frank

  11. avatar

    Hi Findiviglio and Samantha
    just a quick comment on Samantha’s blog, It would be great to see more Californian quail better established in Australia as they are great birds, Especially naturally breeding birds. I would warn Sam about using incubated egg’s as many of the birds incubated in Australia have lost their natural breeding skills and do not reproduce naturally. So to breed the quail I would recommend sourcing natural breeding birds, Yes rare and about $100 – $140 a pair but worth the effort. When purchasing the birds I would check the birds are genuinely natural breeders as there are Californian quail here, but most won’t reproduce. Go for it and good luck Sam, you won’t be disappointed.

  12. avatar

    Much appreciated Allen; thanks for the insights, I would not have known otherwise. I’ll send Samantha a note to check in on the blog, Best, Frank

  13. avatar

    I haven’t yet been able to find anyone that sells natural breeders. I think I’ve seen 1 or 2 people that have private collections that hatch naturally but don’t sell their birds. I’m looking at starting a small group soon, but would like an opinion on an idea. I’ve never dealt with a chickens that wouldn’t hatch or raise chicks so I have no clue if my idea would work. But do you think getting some broody Bobwhite quails to hatch a few generations of Californians and for those generations of Californians to watch the natural hatchings would help reinstate the instinct? Bobwhites are pretty similar in hatching requirements to the best of my knowledge.

  14. avatar

    Hi Samantha,

    Good idea,…int the US, bantam hens are used to foster Cal Quails; zoos have used bobwhites for other, related species; I think it would work out…a local bobwhite breeder might have personal experience. Captives of many species usually do just fine, re their behavior; much is instinctual, and the rest can be picked up from the foster species. We’ve had some concerns with released birds (zoo projects)..males birds pick up the wrong songs; hunting styles need t be perfected (hawks), Please let me know how all goes, Frank

  15. avatar

    I’ve found a place I can get 3 seperate bloodlines of Cals that will apparently hatch their own eggs, so I imagine I’ll be buying eggs and and hope for some to hatch from each bloodline. To have a decent chance of hatching at least 6 birds, what would a reasonable number of eggs to buy be? I don’t think I can afford to outright buy 3 pairs of birds at the moment so it’ll have to be eggs.

    It’s very interesting about the zoo projects. I guess projects like that somewhat answer the nature Vs nurture question, don’t they?! I’ll still be waiting for some time until I can acquire fertile eggs, but I’ll certainly update you once I finally get some.

  16. avatar

    Hi Samantha,

    Yes, please keep me updated…I look forward to hearing more. As for a safe number, I can’t really say….so many variables. Birds do give some fascinating insights into nature vs nurture; no hard/fast rules, and lots of surprises. Lots has been done with finches…fostered birds preferring to mate with parents species as opposed to their own; I cared for a hand raised great horned owl that offered its keepers mice during breeding season, but was terrified of female owls…enjoy, best, Frank

  17. avatar

    Hi Findiviglio and Samanthia
    My cal’s hatch about 65 % naturally in the nest. [Australia] I imagine the rate would be higher in a incubator. But there would still be the problem that the cal’s would not have natural breeding skills. I think Sam’s idea trying the bob whites as foster parents, is worth a try or if you can get a naturally breed female and put it with a incubated male. The problem is incubated birds lay eggs, Will build a nest but will not sit on them for hatching, or will not know all chicks with mother return to the nest at night the chicks pack in like sardines in a tin in a very neat pattern and some how the mother sits on top for warmth and protection. When there can be up to 16-17 babies quite a feat. the chicks don’t grow up leaning as they grow to be adults, an incubator rob’s them of this.
    In Australia we are about 2 months out from spring, and hopefully will see some Californian chicks naturally bread and in the market place. Maybe Sam can let us know what part of Australia
    she is in.

  18. avatar

    Much appreciated, Allen, Best, Frank

  19. avatar

    i have two pairs of californian quails that i got recently.due to the weather here in india and it is rainy season now they are housed temporarily in a 5 x 3 ft wire cage.i plan to build aviaries for them as soon as the rain stops,which is another 2 mnths. both the pairs seems to mate regularly and daily. if the mating is going on , is it a sign that the hens will lay soon or is it routine like in chickens,that they mate regularly?anyways i have a incubator handy if something happens..thanx

  20. avatar


    It seems to vary..in wild birds ,mating is a sign that nesting will follow…but not always so with captives. Good that you are ready, thanks for the observation, best, Frank

  21. avatar

    In reply to Allan, I live in VIC. What I was hoping to do with the incubator birds is hatch them, then put them under a foster mother as probably day olds. I’d hope that that was a good balance between getting a good hatch rate but still letting the chicks have the experience of being raised by a quail.

    My fiance has been doing the research for incubators but finding that the very accurate incubators are around $500. He can build his own incubator that has accurate heat and approximate humidity, but how accurate does the humidity need to be? Does it have to be very precise or is there a fair bit of margin for error?

  22. avatar

    Hi Samantha,

    Humidity can effect hatch rate, weight of chicks, but there is a fairly wide range that works; they are an arid-adapted species and eggs reportedly do well if humidity drops. This article is on Japanese quail, but may be applicable..Cal quail should be a bit hardier than this species, best, Frank

  23. avatar

    Hi Findiviglio and Sam
    I’m not sure about the correct humidity rate for your incubator [ I’m not really a fan of them] But having a quick look on the net, it seam’s to be around the 50 – 65% make would be OK. As long as there is enough humidity to keep the eggs from losing to much moisture and drying out. When our Cockatiels are on eggs the female will wade into their shallow water dish [about 2cm deep ] wetting her underbelly and returning to the nest, keeping the eggs moist. I’m wondering if a simple small dish of water, with a piece of foam rubber cut the same shape and size as the dish in it, to stop any babies falling in, would do the job.

  24. avatar

    My fiance has made incubators before to hatch chickens and he’s pretty sure he can keep humidity within about 10% of the ideal humidity but not sure if he can get it more accurate than that. Maybe with a bit of fiddling he can get a more precise humidity. I think the first batch of eggs we’ll incubate because we can get 3 different bloodlines at a much cheaper price and then after that heavily encourage natural hatching.

    Thank you both for your input. I’ll hopefully be placing a pre-order for eggs soon!

  25. avatar

    Nice to have skilled hands about! Sounds good, enjoy and please keep me posted, Frank

  26. avatar

    Does anyone in Australia have any gambel quail for sale.

  27. avatar

    Hello Leigh,

    Perhaps try posting a request here.

    Good luck, and pl keep me posted; I’ll keep an eye out also, Frank

  28. avatar

    thanks alot frank. would love to get some. Ive just purchased 2 pair of calafornian quail.

  29. avatar

    My pleasure, Leigh…great birds, much of Australia should suit them well, climate-wise. let me know how all goes, enjoy, Frank

  30. avatar

    Hello. Alas ive californian quail chicks.artificially incubated Now 2 days old. l help needed abt their feeding n rearing.

  31. avatar


    The chicks usually get along fine w/o a hen, assuming they are kept warm (start at 90-95 F & gradually reduce)and precautions are taken against drowning in the water bowl. They should peck at chick crumbles on their own…add a bit of hard-boiled egg or commercial egg food and finely-chopped greens to draw their attention. paper towels or similar is best to use as a substrate at first, as food shows up. Use lots of food, and dip beaks in water to “give them the idea” if you do not see them drinking (de-hydration will be fatal in short order). This general info from Stromberg’s is applicable to Cal. Quails…please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  32. avatar

    Thanx frank .they are eating well.but didnt notice them drinking so far.so im assisting them with a dip every two hrs.temp. s fine

  33. avatar

    I live in the mountains, on the ocean side, of Topanga California (southern cali) and I’ve seen a covey of quail around here since we built our house (6 years). And recently I’ve noticed they have kind of moved their activities closer to our house (I see them more often in the canyon next to our house as opposed to the canyon one over). I’m wondering if there is something I can do to support the covey and the quail without going into the whole raising routine. I don’t want to raise them because a) I don’t have the time to do that responsibly and b) I’m not sure how that would affect all the other many animals in our area. I guess I am really asking if I can and should try to support them with food and/or water but I also don’t want to put them in danger from predators (we have plenty of snakes, hawks, racoons, etc). I don’t want to put the quail at risk and I don’t want to attract unwanted species to my house either. Would offer comments on the SHOULD I do this, and if yes, then any ideas on how to support my local quail population would be appreciated.

  34. avatar


    Sounds like a nice spot…..Since they are coming close on their own, best to just observe and leave to their own devices, especially as you are in a rural/semi-rural area. There’s not much you’d be able to do to really change their survival prospects etc. in a big way, and feeding would likely draw other species…competitors, predators, and could wind up doing more harm than good. best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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