Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2008-10

Common name:

Mountain Quail

Scientific name: Oreortyx pictus
Date: Late February - Early March
Time: Morning
Length of time observed: 2 Minutes
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex: Male
Location: Paradise, Utah (Northern Utah, rural area, not far from Idaho border) - juniper thicket near canal
County: Cache
Distance to bird: 2-10 feet at any given time
Optical equipment: Eyes only
Weather: Snow on the ground and snow falling
Light Conditions: Overcast and snowy, but plenty of light to see
Description:        Size of bird: 10-12 inches tall, but sort of fat
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Round and quail-like, but bigger than the average quail
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Grayish Brown, bold white bars on lower parts, straight, long black head plume
(Description:)            Bill Type: Short, quail's bill
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Grays and Browns for most of the body, bold white bars on lower parts, with a very straight, long black head plume, very shy, round bird. Larger than any quail I have seen. Looked like a Chukar Partridge in a way because of the body markings, but it had the long black head plume, and was quite large, 10-12 inches tall.
Song or call & method of delivery: A sound like I have never heard, hard to describe. Kind of a short, screechy, queark. I moved from Alabama not long before, so I'd never heard one. I went outside to see what it was, and it took a while before it came running from the bushes around our canal, which was dry, but filled with snow at the time.
Behavior: Very mysterious, hiding in the bushes until it got scared and ran out into the falling snow and escaped to more lilac bushes and the fields and hills ... where just beyond are some rather steep mountains. It disappeared quickly and I couldn't follow it.
Habitat: Dense bushes and low trees, rocky area, near some fairly steep hills and mountains, fairly dry climate, high altitudes, with juniper, sage, and conifers being some of the most common plants and trees.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Never seen anything quite like it. The closest thing it could look like to me is a chukar partridge, but this had a straight black plume. Before I had seen those in person, I thought it could be a California or Gambel's Quail. After seeing how much smaller those are in person, and how they have a very different plume and color, I know it wasn't one of those. Also, it was much more elusive than those typically are. I have been right up beside those in parks and yards. The mountain quail was very nervous and startled by my presence. If I had been louder, I'd have never seen it. I have seen many of the other types of quail since then, and this one looked and behaved quite differently.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
None with this particular species, though in the East, had seen lots of bobwhites. Later, here in the West, I saw other types of Quail. There is a place near here that raises and releases pheasants for hunting, and I saw some in our yard the same day, around the same time, as I often do, but they don't look the same and make a different sound. Perhaps this place also raises quail? I also know of a place near here that has all sorts of animals, both pets and wild and I see something interesting nearly every time I drive by.
References consulted: Birding books and various online resources.
Description from: From memory
Observer: Melissa Hearle Prosser
Observer's address: PO Box Paradise, Utah 84328
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Possibly my husband heard it, but he didn't come outside and may not remember. He was my boyfriend at the time, and this was his place that I saw it.
Date prepared: June 4, 2008
Additional material:  
Additional Comments: I've been interested in birds all my life and tend to be decent at identifying them by appearance and sound. I have seen things here that I'd only before seen in photos and on TV. Sometimes they look very different from my previous expectations! I'm having lots of fun seeing the unique birds in the Mountain West, and running across familiar ones from the East that I heard were rare or never seen in Utah. I'm blessed to have lived and traveled to places with so much wildlife diversity!