Quail like this California Quail are not native to Eastern Idaho but are native to the west and south sides of the state.

Last week I saw something we seldom see in Eastern Idaho. I was in Caldwell visiting grandkids and saw a California quail. These gamebirds are fairly common across much of southern Idaho and north clear to the Panhandle, but Eastern Idaho has an unsuitable climate for this native bird.

Quail are upland gamebirds of the order Galliformes. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there are 130 species worldwide, more numerous in more southern climates. They are routinely divided into Old World and New World species. Most are small, weighing well under a pound.

In Idaho, there are two native quail species. The California quail and the mountain quail. These are both plumed quail. The male California quail has a plume on top of its head that is shaped like an apostrophe and is made up of several feathers. The male mountain quail has a similar plume but his is straight.

Of the two, the mountain quail is far larger (the largest of the North American quail) and much harder to see in Idaho. You will only find them by hiking the rugged peaks above Hell’s Canyon. The Idaho population (along with one in Central Nevada) is the easternmost and completely disjunct from the main population that runs the length of the three coastal states, California, Oregon and Washington.

A third quail, the Northern bobwhite, has been introduced into Idaho and thrives in some locations in the south and west portions of the state. I have occasionally seen flocks of bobwhites in Eastern Idaho but these are likely releases of captive-raised birds. Even our mild winters are just too bitter for these southern birds and none survive these hopeful attempts to start local populations.

Gambel’s quail, similar in size and look to the California quail and even with the apostrophe topknot, are on the Birds of Idaho bird list but I have never even heard of where one could be seen. As these birds are very southern in distribution, I suspect that the those in the Idaho record were either wanderers or escapees from a private collection.

In the United States there are a total of six species of quail. Besides the ones mentioned, there are the scaled quail and the Mearn’s (a.k.a. Montezuma) quail, once thought to be extinct but now in huntable populations in Arizona and New Mexico.

This has sparked a sporting challenge called a grand slam. For a quail hunter to qualify, he or she must harvest all six species of quail that reside within the U.S. These must be wild birds—pen-raised birds don’t count. Given that no state has a claim to all six species, there is a lot of traveling and hiking involved in collecting a grand slam of quail.

Quail are birds of more open and brushy habitats. They feed mainly on seeds and leaves and are thought of as a delicacy. Occasionally, one gets its revenge though. It seems that quail that have fed on hemlock (a rare situation) may induce acute renal failure in humans because the toxins in hemlock accumulate in the meat.

I will never go for a sporting quail grand slam but I am nearing a birding quail grand slam. Mountain quail may prove to be my nemesis, but it is all part of the fun.  

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho