What Is the State Bird of California?

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  • Written By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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The state bird of California is the California valley quail. Quail are well adapted to the hot, dry climate that exists in much of California and these birds are found in many places throughout the state. This species was named California's state bird in 1931.

The California quail is not a large bird, smaller than the pigeon or the dove. It is typically seen running on the ground, often forming a line with others of its kind. Often they run, one after another, across open areas and through the underbrush. This bird is sometimes also sometimes called the valley quail, the California quail, Catalina quail or the California partridge.

One of the most distinctive features about the state bird of California is the small topknot it has on top of its head. Half a dozen small, black feathers are grouped together to form a tiny spike that curves forward toward the quail’s beak in a c-shape. This notable ornament makes it virtually impossible to mistake the quail for any other bird.


Much of the body of the California valley quail is a dark gray, particularly its back and its upper chest area. The state bird of California also has silver feathers tipped with black on its underside, wings and head, giving it a striking appearance. Its chest is overlaid with a large reddish-gold patch in the male, though the female is much duller in color and lacks the golden tones characteristic of the male. The quail has a black head and chin area, and a distinctive white stripe running from its eye to under its chin as well as a line of white feathers over its eyes.

These birds are very gregarious and live in groups, called coveys, about half of the year. In the spring, the birds split off into nesting pairs and lay their eggs in hollow nests on the ground. A single pair can produce more than two dozen eggs in one season, and they care for the young after hatching. It is not unusual to see one or two adult quail followed by a long line of little ones running across the road or through a field in late spring and early summer. The state bird of California is much admired not only for its beauty but also for its ability to survive and thrive in what can sometimes be a harsh and unforgiving environment.


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