Mountain quail (Oreotyx pictus) are secretive, elusive birds that are easy to hear but very difficult to see. They inhabit remote mountainous areas (2,000 to 10,000 feet) that are usually covered in dense vegetation. These plump birds rapidly walk or run along the ground staying close to cover. Leonard and I often hear mountain quail on our rambles, but most of the time only catch fleeting glimpses as they duck into the brush. Thus I was delighted when we came across three mountain quail eating grit along Modoc National Forest Road 40N11 near Adin CA. It was a race but I did manage to capture several photographs before they disappeared.
Non-migratory, mountain quail are found from British Columbia to Baja as well as in parts of Idaho and Nevada. They do often exhibit altitudinal migration, moving on foot to higher elevations in the spring and summer and returning to lower elevations in fall and winter. In the late summer, fall and winter mountain quail form small coveys of up to 20 individuals.
Mountain quail are olive-brown above with a grey chest. The throat is chestnut with a white border and there is white and chestnut barring on the sides. A distinguishing feature is two straight, black head plumes. When relaxed the plumes angle backward and are straight up when the bird is alert or agitated.
The mountain quail diet is mostly vegetation (fruits, seeds and leaves), some insects and some fungi. Mostly foraging on the ground, they will climb onto plants to reach fruits and leaves. Usually mountain quail kick their feet back and forth to uncover seeds and insects and will also dig for bulbs.