The Scaled Quail (Callipepla squamata), also commonly called Blue Quail or cottontop, is a species of the New World quail family. It is a bluish gray bird found in the arid regions of the Southwestern United States to Central Mexico. This species is an early offshoot of the genus Callipepla, diverging in the Pliocene (Zink & Blackwell, 1998).
This bird is named for the scaly appearance of its breast and back feathers. Along with its scaly markings, the bird is easily identified by its white crest that resembles a tuft of cotton.
The nest is typically a grass-lined hollow containing 9-16 speckled eggs. When disturbed, it prefers to run rather than fly.
Widespread and common throughout its range, the Scaled Quail is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Scaled Quail occupied a wider range during the drier conditions of the last ice age, inhabiting also areas northwest of its present range up to the Colorado River (Rea, 1973). It has formed several subspecies, 3 of which range into the USA:
- Callipepla squamata squamata Vigors, 1830 (Altiplano Scaled Quail). The nominate subspecies; it is only found on the Central Plateau (altiplano) of Mexico.
- Callipepla squamata pallida Brewster, 1881 (Northern Scaled Quail). The most common subspecies, it occurs from Arizona and New Mexico to Colorado and just into Oklahoma, and western Texas, northern Chihuahua, and Sonora. It is paler than the nominate subspecies.
- Callipepla squamata hargravei Rea, 1973 (Upper Sonoran Scaled Quail). A form of arid habitat, it is only found in the area where the states of Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma meet, and in northwestern New Mexico. It is the palest subspecies, adapted to dry and sandy habitat.
- Callipepla squamata castanogastris Brewster, 1883 (Chestnut-bellied Scaled Quail). Found in southern Texas from Eagle Pass and San Antonio south to adjacent northwestern Mexico (Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas). Similar individuals are sometimes found in the extreme northeast and west of the species' range (Schemnitz, 1994). The chestnut brown belly distinguishes it from all other subspecies; it is also darker than the other two found in the USA.