Mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus)

Category: Birds
Ecosystems: Riparian areas
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)


If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form. Providing detailed information such as a photo and exact coordinates will improve the confidence and value of this observation to WDFW species conservation and management.

Mountain quail populations have declined to very low levels within their native range in eastern Washington and were (or continue to be) absent in some areas. They are at the edge of their range in Washington. Eastern Washington populations are thought to have declined due to loss or degradation of dense shrub communities resulting from intensive cattle grazing practices and hydroelectric and other development in riparian zones.

Mountain quail are managed as upland game birds. For current rules about hunting mountain quail in the state, be sure to check the Washington Game Bird and Small Game hunting regulations

Description and Range

Physical description

The mountain quail is about 11 inches in length. Two long, thin black plumes adorn the head. This bird is gray to brownish above and it has a gray breast. Its sides are rust-colored with white barring. Its throat is rust-colored, outlined with a vertical white stripe on both sides.

Ecology and life history

This species requires dense shrub cover, brushy, riparian habitat in dry areas, and brushy slopes. They are found in dense cover with scattered open areas on slopes in foothills and mountains. They use dense thickets resulting from fires or clear cuts, and they are seldom found far from this cover. In summer, the quail require a source of water, which may limit their nesting range.

Diet varies with the season but consists primarily of seeds, bulbs, leaves, berries, and some insects. One of the most important foods is sumac. Insect and other animal matter are a minor source of food, comprising less than five percent of the diet overall. 

Mountain quail nest on the ground in dense cover, usually sheltered by a shrub, log, or clump of grass. Like other quail, their nests are shallow depressions lined with grass, needles, leaves, and feathers. Females lay nine to 10 eggs, which both parents incubate. Shortly after hatching, the young leave the nest. Both parents incubate their own nest and then tend and actively defend the young and lead them to food sources, where they feed themselves.

Geographic range

Although the species has been introduced to parts of western Washington, where it is somewhat common, Asotin, Garfield, and Columbia counties are the mountain quail’s native range. The species was once abundant in Klickitat County and may have been native there historically.

After being extirpated from portions of the historical distribution, 309 mountain quail were released in the Asotin Creek watershed between 2005 and 2013. Survival of released birds to six months of age post-release has ranged between 18 to 34 percent. It is not clear whether these attempts have established populations that will become self-sustaining. While incidental observations of mountain quail continue to occur in the area, deriving a population estimate for this small, widely dispersed population in remote habitat is not currently practical.

For maps of worldwide distribution and other species' information, check out NatureServe Explorer and the International Union for Conservation of Nature - Red List

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change


Mountain quail inhabit dry areas and are dependent upon surface and preformed water availability. They exhibit sensitivity to increased temperatures or changes in precipitation that limit water supply. Increased fire severity and frequency that results in the conversion of suitable habitat also increases the overall sensitivity of this species.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change


  • Increased temperatures
  • Changes in precipitation
  • Altered fire regimes
Confidence: Low


Rules and seasons

Mountain quail are managed as upland game birds. For current rules about hunting mountain quail in the state, be sure to check the Washington Game Bird and Small Game hunting regulations. For additional information about hunting opportunities and strategies, check out WDFW's Upland bird hunting and Quail Hunting pages.


This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.

Mountain quail is designated by WDFW as a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in Eastern Washington only.

Conservation Threats and Actions Needed

  • Energy development and distribution
    • Threat: Hydroelectric development along the Snake River has resulted in the loss of key riparian habitat.
    • Action: Protect as-yet undeveloped habitat along tributaries.
  • Agriculture and aquaculture side effects
    • Threat: Mountain quail require dense shrub cover and brushy areas. Use of herbicide kills shrubs and plants required for cover and forage, particularly sumac.
    • Action: Work with landowners to use best management practices.
    • Threat: Mountain quail require dense shrub cover and brushy areas. Intensive grazing practices have damaged habitat required for cover and forage.
    • Action: Protect as-yet undeveloped habitat along tributaries.
  • Resource information collection needs
    • Threat: Success of translocation efforts is not clear and trend data are lacking.
    • Action: Evaluate results from translocations to assess effectiveness of release strategies. 

See the Climate vulnerability section  for information about the threats posed by climate change to this species.



WDFW. 2015. Game Management Plan July 2015 - June 2021. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington.

WDFW. 2014. 2014 Game status and trend report. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington.

WDFW publications

PHS Program

Other resources