Quail are important game birds in Mexico, for one species or another are found throughout the entire country. A dozen different types are indigenous to this country, some being only peculiar to Mexico while others are common to both Mexico and the United States. We are familiar with Mearns, Mountain, Scale, California Valley, Gambel and Bobwhites, either first-hand or through articles, pictures, and information about them published in the GAZETTE. But what about such interesting quail as Douglas (Lophortyx douglassii), Barred (Philortyx fasciatus), Spotted Wood (Odontophorus guttatus), and Singing (Dactylortyx thoracicus)?
Few game bird fanciers have ever heard of these species, let alone seen them, for most of them are non-existent in captivity. The Gazette would like to encourage the introduction of more of these varieties into American collections.
Although some areas of the southwestern United States are natural range for a form of Mearns Quail, it should be noted that this species (Cyrtonyx montezumae), often referred to as Montezuma Quail or Massena Quail, is primarily a Mexican Quail; the bulk of them being found south of the border. They are unquestionably the world’s most highly colored quail, and new wild caught blood must be obtained for the species in captivity. Present stock is said to be fairly closely related, however, birds currently being offered for sale are of overall fine quality and show little sign of degeneration. But this is a critical species in captivity and a lot of work needs to be done to really establish and preserve them. Their future is definitely uncertain at the present time.
We must find ways of bringing new specimens into the captive breeding program to avoid any degeneration and assure its continued existence. It is especially important that a good captive population be established since they are becoming fewer in the wild state, and especially in the United States, where they are disappearing entirely from many areas where they were once abundant.
They are more difficult to raise than most other Quails, for their natural diet is primarily insect, and the young birds subsist entirely on live food until they are fairly well grown. While they are kept in captivity, great effort must be taken to provide a ration of similar nutrition. Live food for the chicks is especially helpful in successfully raising Mearns, although some breeders have done quite well with them using a good commercial feed and finely chopped greens.
Douglas is another species which inhabits dense, thick brush and are difficult to flush out. Therefore, there seems to be no conservation problem with Douglas either, since their extermination through hunting would seem improbable. A large number of these, as with the preceding species, are not harvested annually by hunters.
Douglas, or Benson as they are mostly referred to, have been successfully established in captivity, and most of the credit for this must be given to the late J. Stokley Ligon of Carlsbad, New Mexico, who, as far as we know, trapped the original stock in Mexico from which all of the captive birds today have stemmed. A large number of Benson are being raised and offered for sale now.
Spotted Wood Quail have a tropical range, and as jungle dwellers one might thing they would not do well as aviary birds. However, other types of game birds from tropical parts of the world have proven adaptable to captive conditions, so I see no reason to believe Spotted Wood Quail could not be managed and preserved successfully in captivity. Seeds have been found in the crops of all these species of Mexican Quail, and I am sure they can all be put on game bird rations without too much trouble. As long as the dense rain forest areas are preserved in Mexico, there should be no cause for concern over the future status of Spotted Wood Quail.
Singing Quail are interesting birds, being about the size of a Valley Quail, with short, stubby tails and unusually large feet and long claws. They inhabit forest regions in thick underbrush. They are a poor sporting bird since they are most difficult to flush, preferring to run stealthily through the thick cover and seldom coming out into the open where they could be shot. Aside from their curious physical features, an outstanding characteristic of this quail is its song which is perhaps more melodious than any other type of game bird. As might be guessed, its powerful, oversized feet and claws are used for digging and scratching for sub-surface material such as bulbs, insects, larvae, buried seeds, etc.
As their name implies, the barring found on the wing converts, sides and breast of the Barred Quail are their most distinguishing characteristics. They are a small quail with both male and female being identical in appearance and size. They are a beautiful species. Their habits are similar to the Bobwhite, and they are likewise a good sporting bird.
As for the bobwhites in Mexico, they are an important game bird there, the same as they are in the United States, and their habitats and habits are also similar to the Bobwhites north of the border. There are about six variant forms of Bobwhites throughout Mexico, all varying considerably in appearance and size. The masked (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi) is of the most interest because it is the most attractive and probably the rarest. It is on the endangered list. Some exist in captive collections, but not enough to consider them established. Also they are disappearing in the natural state which is causing much alarm to wildlife officials. Their range is very limited in the United States and consists of only a small area in southern Arizona extending into northeastern Mexico. Aviculturists interested in quail and quail preservation should work with this species which is probably at the top of the quail threatened list.
Some of the less known varieties of Mexican Quail are the tree quails. There are three species and they are the largest of the Mexican Quails. Their large size and long tails gives them a most conspicuous and interesting appearance. The sexes are similar, and as their name suggests, they are birds who prefer areas with lots of trees, high forest regions. Although they live in wooded areas, they are not primarily arboreal in nature and spend most of their time in thick underbrush on the ground where they are well hidden from predators, both man and beast. They perch in trees at night. As long as forest regions remain, there should be no danger of serious depletion of Tree Quails.