Montezuma quail

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The Montezuma quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae) is a stubby, secretive New World quail of Mexico and some nearby parts of the United States. It is also known as Mearns’s quail, the harlequin quail (for the male’s striking pattern), and the fool quail (for its behavior).

At about 22 cm (8.75 in), it is one of the shortest quails of North America, although it weighs 180 g (6 oz), the same as some Callipepla quails that are several centimetres longer. It has an even plumper build and shorter tail than other quails.

Both sexes have the back and wing coverts tan with longitudinal light-buff streaks formed by the feather shafts and circular or transversely oblong black spots arranged in bars. A crest on the nape makes the profile distinctively long front-to-back. The bill is black above and bluish-gray below. The adult males have a striking, swirling black-and-white face pattern. A single tan plume lies flat over the crest. Their sides are blue-gray (often looking black) with bold spots, which in northern birds are white and in southern birds are white towards the front and chestnut towards the back. The middle of the chest and belly is dark brown in northern birds, lighter and tawnier in southern birds. Females have a suggestion of the male’s face pattern. Their underparts are light brown with a few fine black shaft streaks and other lines. Juveniles resemble females, but the underparts are grayish with white shaft streaks and black dots. Immature males develop the adult side pattern early but do not develop the face pattern till early winter.

An unusual feature of this species is the long, sickle-shaped claws, which it uses for digging.

This species is found (or overlooked) from Oaxaca north through the interior of Mexico to the mountains of central and southeastern Arizona, central and southwestern New Mexico, and west Texas. It is absent from deserts and the Río Balsas valley. There are five subspecies divided into two plumage types, northern and southern, that intergrade in central Veracruz.

The habitat is open woods, most often oak but also pine-oak and juniper, with grass at least 30 cm (1 ft) tall. Slopes of hills and canyons are particularly favored. The range is decreasing and becoming fragmented. source

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