Birds that Start with “Q”

Considering that there aren’t all that many words to be found in the dictionary under the letter Q, there aren’t that many birds that start with “Q” either.

These are the “Q” birds that inhabit North and South America – Quail, Quebracho-crested Tinamou, and the Quetzals. Here’s a list of bird species found on those continents and their descriptions with pictures,


There are six native species of Quail in the Northern Hemisphere, all but one occurring only west of the Mississippi River in the United States. They are the California Quail, ,,, and the Northern Bobwhite which is the only one in the eastern United States.

California Quail

Scientific Name: Callipepla californica                       Size: 10 inches


The male California Quail has a scaled black-and-white belly, chestnut belly patch and head cap, and thin black-and-white markings on their necks.

Females lack the male quail’s neck and facial markings and are brownish gray with scaled bellies and sides.

These game birds can be found foraging for seeds and small insects on roadsides and at the edge of brushy patches, but if you have feeders, they may come by to see what you’re handing out.

They are quick to scatter when disturbed, and make a call that sounds like “Chi-ca-go”.

Bird Notes

The California Quail is the state bird of… California, of course!

The next time you watch Bambi look for the California Quail among the forest creatures.

song and call

Gambel’s Quail

Scientific Name: Callipepla gambelli                          Size: 10 inches


Gambel’s Quail looks very similar to the California Quail but since their ranges don’t overlap, identification can be done by location alone. Gambel’s Quail is also a member of the “scaled quails” group.

These quail are paler and grayer in color than California. Males have a black patch in the center of their belly, which California Quail does not. Both males and females lack the scaled bellies and necks of California.

Another field mark is the Gambel’s Quail have unmarked, buffy patches at the top of the bellies.

These quail are common in the desert Southwest walking in the scrub, usually more comfortable running rather than flying away from danger.

Seed and small insect eaters, Gambel’s Quail will come to backyard feeders and water sources.

Bird Notes

Gambel’s Quail go through “boom and bust” cycles, like most desert-dwelling creatures. When rainfall is abundant, they produce more eggs, so populations increase. When there is prolonged drought, fewer young survive and their population goes down.


Scaled Quail

Scientific Name: Callipepla squamata                       Size: 10 inches


These birds are gray-brown with an intricate scaled pattern, which is how they got their name. Both male and female Scaled Quail have an understated crest with a white tip.

Yes, Scaled Quails are the third of the four “scaled quails”.

Scaled Quails are found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They usually occur in medium-sized coveys, foraging for seeds and small insects and sometimes gleaning small flowers during a desert bloom.

Bird Notes

Like most of their family members, Scaled Quail settle in a circle, all facing outward, when they sleep at night.

Two other names for Scaled Quail are “Cotton-top”, for the tuft of white feathers on their crests, and Blue Quail due to their bluish-gray backs and breasts.

song and call

Montezuma Quail

Scientific Name: Cyrtonyx montezumae                  Size: 8.75 inches


Round quail with a clownish head design. This is a secretive quail that hides in the grasses that cover the forests and steep mountains of the southwest United States and Mexico.

This is the fourth and final species that are known as the “scaled quail”.

Males have a harlequin-like pattern on their heads, unlike any other quail. Their breast and chest are black-and-white dots while their backs have buff-colored streaking and barring.

Female Montezuma Quail lack the clown face but still have very short bluish bills and are reddish-brown whereas their male counterparts are black/white.

Despite their interesting patterning, these birds are hard to spot when you’re out looking for them.

Montezuma Quail has claws on its toes that enable them to dig for acorns, tubers, and insects.  This food quest never takes them far, though – they like to stay close to wherever home is.

Bird Notes

Mearn’s Quail and Harlequin Quail were two other names for the Montezuma Quail. This quail species has the smallest range (southern Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico) of all the native quail.

song and call

Mountain Quail

Scientific Name: Oreortys pictus                 Size: 11 inches


The largest of the quail species found in the United States.  It is more likely to be heard than seen in its limited range.

If you can get a look at a Mountain Quail, you shouldn’t have any issues identifying it. No other quail species in the US has a crest quite like the one on a Mountain Quail. A long, thin straight-head plume is a great field mark for these birds. They have gray bodies and chestnut flanks with very visible white bands.

You will hear them before you see them. Mountain Quail calls are loud, squeaky whistles. Their range runs through California, Washington, Oregon, parts of Nevada, and down into the Baja Peninsula.

Mountain Quail don’t like the grasslands that the other five native quail inhabit. They prefer dense understory or brushy areas along streams. Mountain Quail will also move into burned areas, foraging for second-growth vegetation and shrubs that rise from the ashes.

Bird Notes

You can tell a Mountain Quail’s attitude by observing its head plume. If the plume is sticking straight up, the bird is alarmed about something. If the crest is laid back, so is the bird.

song and call

Northern Bobwhite

Scientific Name: Colinus virginianus           Size: 9.75 inches


Northern Bobwhites are the lone quail species found in the Eastern United States.

These plump little game birds are found in coveys and are usually heard before they are seen, as they blend in perfectly with their habitat of grassy fields or pine-studded woodlands.

Male Northern Bobwhite has a black-and-white face, brown crown with a short crest, and white throats. Their upper bodies are chestnut and their underparts are a brown-and-white scaled pattern.

The female Bobwhite has brown striped and speckled plumage; where the male’s throat is white, the female’s is buff-colored, and they have a stripe over their eyes.

The Northern Bobwhite’s call is its name – Bob-white! Bob-white! Bobwhites are ground feeders, picking up seeds from the underbrush, where their distinctive plumage camouflages them perfectly.

This little gamebird is in trouble. There has been a steep decline in Northern Bobwhite Quail populations. Loss of habitat is the main cause, as civilization has seriously encroached on the quail’s territory.

Bird Notes

Bobwhite Quail love to eat ticks. Programs that raise Bobwhites and then release them into parks and preserves are popping up all over the areas that range.

 The benefit of raising quail to release them locally is that while they initially stay in the area they were released into, they will then expand their territories. This, hopefully, will re-establish the little game birds in areas that they have long vanished from.

Resident populations are now active in many of the preserves, parks, and locations where these programs are, and there are also lots fewer ticks on the trails too.

Song and call

Masked Quail

A subspecies of the Northern Bobwhite known as the Masked Bobwhite or Masked Quail (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi) once lived in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and Mexico. These quail have blackheads, chestnut underparts, and speckled backs.

Habitat loss caused by cattle grazing and local and federal fire-suppression policies caused it to disappear from Arizona in the early 20th century.

There have been recent efforts to reintroduce Masked Quail into southern Arizona using stock from Mexico, with limited success.

Quebracho-crested Tinamou

Scientific Name: Eudromia formosa           Size: 15 inches


Quebracho-crested Tinamou is a stocky, long-necked bird, found among the semi-arid Chaco regions of Paraguay and northern Argentina.

The bird’s plumage camouflages them well among the dry, dense thorny forests they inhabit.

Their upper bodies are grayish-brown with black scales while the underparts are buff-brown. Black chevrons cascade from the neck to the belly. Their throats are white, their heads feature white stripes both above and below the eye.

They get their name from the straight “crest” of feathers on the tops of their heads.

These birds stay in family groups, moving among the Chaco to eat fruits that have either fallen to the ground or remain on low-lying branches.  

Although they can fly, Quebracho-crested Tinamous are not good fliers – they like to stay grounded.

Bird Notes

The scientific name of the Quebracho-crested Tinamou translates to “nice running escape”, which is how these birds flee their predators.



Quetzals are named after the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, and are considered a symbol of goodness and light. They are part of the Trogon family of Neotropical birds found in tropical and subtropical forests.

Eared Quetzal (also known as Eared Trogon)

Courtesy of

Scientific Name: Euptilotis neoxenus        Size: 13 to 14 inches, tail plumes 25 to 35 inches

An incredibly rare visitor to Arizona from Mexico.

The head and wings are black, the back and shoulders are iridescent blue and green and the breast and belly are brilliant red-orange. The Eared Quetzal is a colorful bird.

Eared Quetzals feed on berries and insects and nest in tree cavities.

Bird Notes

Quetzal feet are different than most other birds. They have four toes, two in the front and two in the back. Toes 1 and 2 are facing back and are immobile, making it hard for them to walk on the ground. It does make it better to perch on tree limbs and hop

Song and call

Crested Quetzal

Scientific Name: Pharomachrus antisianus              Size: 13 to 13.5 inches, tail plumes 30 inches

The male Crested Quetzal is found in the tropical and subtropical moist montane forests of the Andes Mountains.  It is native to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Males have a metallic emerald body with a red breast and belly, and a white undertail. Females are similarly colored except their breasts and heads are brown, and the undertail is dark.

Males sport a crest on their heads; they are the only quetzal species to have a head crest.

song and call

Golden-headed Quetzal

Scientific Name: Pharamadchrus                  Size: 13 to 14 inches, tail plumes up to 6.5 inches

Hard to locate large Trogon found in forests and at the edges of subtropical zones from Bolivia to Venezuela and into Panama.

Like most quetzals, the Golden-headed Quetzal is a shimmering green bird with a dazzling red belly. The heads and backs of male birds have a prominent golden shine. Yellow bills, dark eyes, and dark tails set the Golden-headed Quetzal apart from the similar Crested Quetzal.

Female Golden-headed Quetzals show the dark eye and tail of the males, but their brown heads and brownish chests and bill make them duller than the males.

Similar to other quetzals, the Golden-headed Quetzal eats fruits and berries, preferring to stay around fruiting trees.

Bird Notes

Because of their upright posture and coloration, Golden-headed Quetzals are difficult to locate in their forest homes.

song and call

White-tipped Quetzal

Scientific Name: Pharomachrus fulgidus                  Size: 12 inches  tail plumes 24 to 30 inches

Inhabitants of tall mature tropical and subtropical montane cloud forests of Venezuela, Guyana, and Colombia, White-tipped Quetzals are large, elegant trogons with black tails and white under tails.

Males are gold-green with intense red bellies, yellow bills, and no crests on their heads, like many of the other quetzals; female White-tipped Quetzals show gray bills, gray-brown lower breasts, and white barred under tails with white tips. Female quetzals are always much duller than their male counterparts.

White-tipped Quetzals eat fruits and berries; they are cavity nesters, taking over abandoned woodpecker holes high up in the trees.

song and call

Pavonine Quetzal

Scientific Name: Pharamadchrus pavoninus           Size: 13.2 inches

A stocky green-and-red bird found in lowland rainforests in the northern Amazon basin, from Colombia to Bolivia.

Male Pavonine Quetzals are iridescent green overall with bright red bellies, red bills, black primaries, secondaries, greater wing coverts, and black undertails. Females have iridescent green backs, gray and reddish bellies, dusky heads and bills, and a black undertail with faint white barring.

Bird Notes

Other names for the Pavonine Quetzal are Peacock Quetzal and Red-billed Train Bearer.

Pavonine Quetzals are the only quetzal that occupies lowland rainforests east of the Andes.

song and call

Resplendent Quetzal

Scientific Name: Pharamadchrus mocinno              Size: body 15 to 16 inches, tail 24 to 36 inches

Gorgeous, spectacular green and blue trogons are found in the cloud forests of Central America and Southern Mexico. This is the national bird of Guatemala. There are actually 2 subspecies of Resplendent Quetzal, P. moccino moccino, the Guatemalan bird, and P moccino costaricensis, the Costa Rican bird.

While they appear to be brilliant green birds, Resplendent Quetzals are actually covered with brown feathers. The spacing of the pigment melanin in their feathers traps and reflects green light, so the birds appear vivid green.

Male Resplendent Quetzals show iridescent green-gold to blue-violet bodies with brilliant red chests and black inner wings. In varying light, their feathers may appear lime green, cobalt, yellow, or ultramarine.  Their long primary wing coverts are fringed, and their upper tail coverts are long and green. Their heads have tufts of yellow-green feathers that resemble a crest, and their bills are yellow.

Females are a bit duller with a smaller tail and lack the yellow-green crest of the males. Their bills are black.

They are cavity nesters, relying on woodpeckers and toucans to excavate the holes as quetzal bills are not strong enough to chip into the wood.

Bird Notes

Not only is the Resplendent Quetzal the national bird of Guatemala, but it’s also the name of the Guatemalan currency.  The Maya revered the Quetzal as a spirit guide and believed that if it were caged, it would die. That’s how it became a symbol of independence and importance to the Guatemalan people.

Although this is the national bird of Guatemala, you are more likely to see this bird in Costa Rica due to that country’s programs to save cloud forest habitats.

song and call


In addition to the birds that start with a Q above, there are a few that don’t inhabit North America. There are Quailfinches and their parasitic companions, the Quailfinch Indigobird, Queen Whydah (also known as Shaft-tailed Whydahs), and the small, seed-eating Quelea, or Weaverbirds, which are all found in Africa.

There is a stunning bird of paradise named the Queen Victoria Riflebird, also called Victoria’s Riflebird, that inhabits northeastern Queensland in Australia.

That’s our short foray into the Birds that Start with “Q”.

Keep coming back for more of our “Birds that Start with the letter” series.            

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