STATE PARK WONDER
Quest for Quail
Davis Mountains State Park hosts a population of the elusive Montezuma quail.
Davis Mountains State Park is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area, home to around 300 species. For decades, avid birders have flocked to the park, many hoping to catch sight of the beautiful and elusive Montezuma quail, which has a limited range in Texas.
“We have people coming here who are working on their life list,” interpretive ranger Charlie Ewing says. “And people love our two bird blinds. We get lots of compliments about those.”
The Emory Oak Wildlife Viewing Area, called the “fanciest little bird blind in Texas,” was built by park staff to match the white stucco designs of the CCC-constructed park buildings. The second blind, incorporated in the back right corner of the Interpretive Center, is equipped with a microphone disguised as a bird feeder, so visitors can listen to the sounds outside while enjoying the air conditioning. For the best chances of finding a Montezuma quail, however, visitors will need to put on their hiking shoes, hit the trails and hope for some good luck.
“The birds typically want to be away from people,” Ewing says.
Montezuma quail have small heads, are round bodied with short tails, and are covered in feathers ranging in color from slate blue and gray to black and brown. The males’ faces are mostly white with black lines, sporting white polka dots across their breast flanks. The females are marked with similar patterns, but in a variety of browns and off-white lines, making them more difficult to spot in the desert grassland.
“Quite often, if you’re hiking, you won’t know they’re there until you’re almost upon them,” Ewing says. “You’ll flush them out of the grass, and they are off and flying.”
Montezuma quail are common at the park year-round, but it may not seem that way. Cautious of predators, they spend little time in the open, preferring instead to hide in dense grass and shrub cover when not foraging. As ground foragers, they frequently move less than 50 yards per day while looking for tubers, acorns and insects to eat. To access tubers such as wood sorrels and sedges they are equipped with elongated toes specialized for digging. Their nests are often constructed at the base of large bunchgrasses, and the nest bowl itself is commonly domed and woven on the ground from grass, stems and leaves.
The best time to find a Montezuma quail is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when they are most likely to wander out to forage or when moving to and from their nests.
Ewing says the birds have become stealthier in recent years, and encounters are less common than they were last decade. Starting this past summer, however, there has been an unusual uptick in sightings. Most recently, Ewing says he’s spotted Montezuma quail crossing Skyline Drive and gathering near the park’s group picnic area.
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