Six distinct species of quail occur in the United States, with some of these individual species further divided into various subspecies, such as the northern bobwhite. The differences between the male and female quails are rarely obvious and both sexes are often very close in size. Some of these subtle differences between the boys and the girls in the world of quails manifest themselves in varied markings, other features and behavior.
The northern bobwhite's facial coloring is what separates the appearance of the males and females. On the males, the face has a black and white pattern of markings, notes the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds." The throat is white and a white stripe extends through the eye and down to the neck of the bird. The throat and eye stripe on the female northern bobwhite is buff-colored. While both sexes of the scaled quail have a crest on their head, like that of a blue jay or cardinal, the gray crest of the male has a white tip of feathers; that of the female is similar but has a buff color on the very top of the crest.
The differences between a male and female mountain quail are extremely hard to detect, especially from a distance. The best way to tell these birds apart, if you get a close look at them, is to focus on the plume of feathers that extend backwards from the top of the head. The female's plume is slightly shorter in length. Overall, the female is also a bit darker brown than the male, with this brown showing up on the face, throat, belly, sides and upper portions of the back.
The California quail of the Pacific Northwest and West Coast features what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls a "topknot" of assorted feathers that radiates out from the forehead of the bird. While both the males and the females have this topknot, those that belong to the male California quail will be longer. The Gambel's quail of the southwestern states also has a topknot in both sexes, but that of the male is more robust than the one the female has.
The Montezuma quail of New Mexico and Arizona may be the easiest quail species in terms of telling apart a male from a female. This is because the male Montezuma quail has a very striking head, with a black and white pattern on its face. This swirling pattern of bold colors does not occur on the female. The pattern is much fainter and indistinct on the female Montezuma quail's head.
The disparity between a male scaled quail and a female of this species is quite understated, with an observer sometimes being fortunate enough to observe a behavior that allows her to tell which quail is which. During the nesting season, the male rarely, if ever, sits upon the eggs in an effort to hatch them. This job falls almost exclusively to the female, so finding a scaled quail on its nest means chances are excellent that it is a girl. Where cover is not abundant, it is common to see two or even three female northern bobwhites sharing the same nest.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: New World Quail
- What Bird: Mountain Quail
- What Bird: Scaled Quail
- What Bird: Montezuma Quail
- "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds;" John Bull and John Farrand Jr; 2008