By MILLIE BASBEN
Next time you are in Mission Trails Regional Park and you hear the voice of a California Quail calling its distinctive “chi-ca-go, chi-ca-go,” look around. Sitting on the top of a shrub, rock, fence post, or other prominent perch, you may see a California Quail, acting as a sentinel for his covey while it forages on the ground around him.
Defense against predators is a challenge for all prey species. Using a sentinel who watches and sounds the alarm if a predator approaches allows the rest of a group to focus on other activities without distraction.
Quail are social birds and spend most of the year in groups called coveys, made up of males, females, and their offspring. While a sentinel quail is on duty, nearby other quail will be pecking and scratching at the ground, foraging for seeds, other plant parts and the occasional insect, or perhaps taking a dust bath. Listen closely for a soft murmuring “pit-pit-pit” call as they stay in contact with each other while they move about.
The California Quail (Callipepla californica) is the state bird of California, but its native range extends along the west coast from the tip of Baja California all the way to northern Washington and a short distance into British Columbia, Canada. It has been introduced in many places worldwide and is established in such diverse locations as New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina.
California Quail are no longer found in heavily urbanized areas of our county where native scrub vegetation is too fragmented to support them. Mission Trails Regional Park is an oasis for California Quail, offering the quail a place to call home, and offering us the opportunity to hear and see them.
— Millie Basden is a trail guide at Mission nTrails Regional Park.