DESERT QUAIL RESEARCH
Montezuma Quail Population Characteristics
Montezuma quail are secretive birds that occur in the upper elevations of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert regions of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, USA; and Mexico. Although their life history has been documented, most accounts have been based on anecdotal observations or harvested samples.
The cryptic coloration of female Montezuma quail provide adequate concealment in habitats rich with bunchgrass and rocks.
The lack of information on Montezuma quail may be attributed to several factors including their secretive nature, the inaccessibility of their primary habitats (e.g., steep slopes and high elevations), and researchers’ inability to capture Montezuma quail.
Over the last 10 years, the Borderlands Research Institute has been studying different aspects of Montezuma quail ecology. Using night-capture techniques and trained dogs we were able to capture and monitor Montezuma quail to assess population characteristics, movement patterns, and habitat use. During a 2-year study, we captured and radioed 68 Montezuma quail.
Average home range size was 5,310 acres and ranged from 42 to 38,921 acres. Prior to this study, most believed Montezuma quail to be relatively sedentary birds that did not travel far from their birth place. It was not uncommon for Montezuma quail to move 5-7 miles (straight-line distance) within 2-3 weeks.
Additionally the study conducted in the Davis Mountains indicated that habitat use by Montezuma quail was associated with habitats that had high densities of wood sorrel, sedges, and wild onion. Montezuma quail also preferred habitats with moderate slopes (20-30%) and rock outcrops.
Little information exists regarding management practices that may promote primary food resources for Montezuma quail. However, given the apparent interrelationship among rock outcrops on slopes, soil packets, and subterranean foods, management should minimize practices that could disrupt such relationship (e.g., practices that could dislodge rock outcrops and increase soil erosion).