The Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) is probably one of the most striking of all the members of the quail family. Its natural range is from Baja California up through California and Oregon into Washington. It is by far the largest quail and has some of the most desirable characteristics of any quail kept in captivity.
The adults measure between 10½”-11½” long. The sexes are very similar in appearance, with both males and females having straight, narrow, blackish crests composed of only two feathers, which appear with the juvenile plumage. The throat is chestnut, edged with black, and this is separated from the slate grey chest, neck and head by a narrow white line. The back, wings and tail are an olive grey colour, and the flanks are dark brown with bold black and white bars. The females generally have a brownish patch at the name of the neck, although this may not be apparent until the birds have moulted at the end of their first year.
The eggs are a plain light beige colour, without any spots or patches. Incubation is most successful at a temperature of 37.5ºC, with lowish humidity of about 50%. The eggs take anything between 24-28 days to hatch, and often hatch over a three day period. It’s a good idea to leave unhatched eggs in the incubator or hatcher for an extra few days, just in case any further chicks pop out. Mountain quail have a justified reputation for not being regular producers. The hens certainly don’t lay every day, and not all eggs laid are fertile.
Mountain Quail Chicks
As with other quail, the chicks are quite delicate when first hatched and some may die in the first few days. The use of red bulbs in the brooder is preferable to white, as it helps to discourage them from toe-picking, a habit to which they are particularly prone, and which is at best disabling and at worst fatal.
They require a large pen with plenty of room for exercise, and can be kept on the ground if the soil is dry and free-draining. Otherwise they can be kept on wire. They appreciate having branches for perching and a pan of sand for a dust bath. You should also provide a covered area where they can shelter from the weather, and branches of pine trees for the hens to nest under. However, they are not as nervous as some other species of quail, and have the most delightful, playful character once they become accustomed to their regular keeper and can be hand tamed, with patience.
They enjoy a varied diet, readily accepting pellets, mixed seeds, live food such as meal worms, fresh greenstuff, etc. They need access to clean drinking water at all times, and this should be changed twice a day in warm weather.
Like other birds of the same family, these quails are susceptible to disease. Great care must be taken over hygiene, and all feeders and drinkers cleaned scrupulously every two or three days, if not more often. This aspect of bird care cannot be stressed too much as birds easily pick up disease from droppings and decaying foodstuffs, and these can also be introduced by the bird keeper on their shoes or clothing.