Exhibits: Birds of the Sonoran Desert

Over 10 other species of native birds live together in the museum's walk-in aviary.

Cactus WrenQuail

Gambel's Quail

Traveling naturalists, accustomed to the secretive nature of quail in other habitats, are often startled to see how conspicuous Gambel’s Quail can be in the Sonoran Desert.

Quail in general are plump birds, rather poor fliers, that spend almost all their time on the ground. Thus they have good reason to make themselves unobtrusive, to avoid drawing the notice of predators. Gambel’s Quail are probably no less vulnerable (or tasty) than the other species, yet they behave in ways that call attention to themselves. The males call loudly from low perches; family groups go parading across the flats; coveys of two dozen or more run about clucking in the open. In the sparse plant growth of the desert, it would be impossible for Gambel’s Quail to be as secretive as their relatives that live in denser cover, so perhaps shy behavior would be a non-adaptive waste of energy.

At one time, south-central Arizona had another common type of quail: the Masked Bobwhite. Unfortunately, it required not just desert, but lush desert grassland. Large herds of cattle, brought into this region before the principles of range management were well understood, eliminated most of the grasses; when the grass disappeared, so did the Masked Bobwhites. There are still captive flocks, raised from birds found in Sonora, but conservationists have faced major difficulties in trying to reintroduce these birds to the wild.

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