Game birds in the northern state: wild turkey and quail

Loss of natural habitat is a serious threat to wildlife. How the game birds managed to recover after the wildfires that roared and incinerated our corner of the country is a mystery, but they are thriving again in my part of paradise. Quails begin to nest in protected spaces and their distinctive cry can be heard in the early morning.

Another seemingly resilient bird is the California wild turkey. While renting in Chico after the campfire, I saw several turkeys on the south side of Chico. Imagine my surprise when I ran head-on into a during a drive down North Avenue a few blocks east of McManus School. It is obvious that wild turkeys are quite comfortable moving around urban areas.

“The Real Dirt” is a chronicle of various local Master Gardeners who are part of UC Butte County’s Master Gardeners.

The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was nearly extinct in the 1930s due to overhunting and deforestation which destroyed their natural habitat. Today, their population has increased dramatically: wild turkeys can be found throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico, and number around seven million birds. California wild turkeys now occupy approximately 18% of our state and are controlled by hunting.

While wild turkeys can be found throughout the state, Northern California is home to the largest population. The most common species seen in the Sacramento Valley foothills is the Rio Grande wild turkey, identified by the buff colored spikes on its tail.

People love or hate the presence of wild turkeys on their property. An adult turkey can weigh over twenty pounds and cause a lot of damage by perching on cars, leaving droppings on sidewalks and driveways, and rooting in vegetable and flower gardens. Turkeys are easily domesticated and adapt effortlessly to the human environment where foraging is abundant.

Since turkey eggs hatch in just 28 days, a flock of wild turkeys can appear in no time. There are strategies for humanely encouraging wild turkeys to move to a new neighborhood. Consider using motion-sensing sprinklers, removing bird feeders from areas where turkeys are feeding, removing pet kibble from an outdoor location, and letting Fido roam free in the yard. These tactics will scare the turkeys and encourage them to move on. During the breeding season, turkeys can become aggressive. It’s best to keep your distance.

The California wild turkey season opens March 26 and ends May 1. The limit is one bird per hunter per day, three per season; hunting license and upland game bird validation is required.

Fun facts:

  • Diet: Turkeys are omnivores and eat grasses, grains and berries, as well as snails, slugs, lizards, grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders and baby rattlesnakes.
  • Average lifespan: three to five years in the wild. The oldest known wild turkey lived to be around 13 years old.
  • Threats: raccoons, foxes, bears, opossums, hawks, wild cats and humans.
  • Nocturnal habits: turkeys sleep in trees.
  • Wild turkeys can fly and they have a maximum flight speed of around 55 miles per hour. They also have strong legs and can run up to twenty-five miles per hour.
  • Adult male turkeys are called toms and females are called hens. Very young birds are poults. Juvenile males are jakes and juvenile females are jennies. A group of turkeys is called a rafter or flock.
  • The wild turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s preference for our national bird because of its protective instincts and proud attitude.

The California quail (Callipepla californica), also called the valley quail or California valley quail, is identified by the overlapping feathers above its small head that curl into a U-shaped plume. males have larger feathers than female quails. Another distinguishing characteristic is the color of their head. Female quail have brown heads, while male heads are black with white stripes. Quails are very social birds that live in broods and can be seen nodding their heads with every step as they make their way across the floor. One of their common activities is dust bathing, where they use their bellies to burrow one to two inches into the soft ground, wriggling and flapping their wings and kicking up dust. In the spring, the quail mate for the breeding season. They are serially monogamous, their bond lasting only one season.

Quails nest on the ground in a shallow depression under a shrub or other cover.

The hens usually lay a dozen eggs, which incubate in 22 or 23 days. Once hatched, the chicks start running after just an hour, socializing with their parents. A spring heat wave can endanger a chick in the nest. In an exceptionally hot season, the chicks may not survive. Chicks begin to fly at two weeks and become independent from their parents in three to four weeks. Families often come together in common broods that include at least two females, several males, and many offspring. The male quails (roosters) in the group are often not the genetic fathers of any of the offspring. During the fall season quail travel in flocks that range from 25 to 40 birds, although it is not unusual for flocks to be even larger. Companies of over 1,000 quail have been reported.

Quails prefer to eat just before sunrise and sunset, but they search for food throughout the day. One bird will watch while the others eat, keeping the company safe from predators.

Their distinctive call, chi-ca-go, can be heard when eating or foraging for food. Although they mostly stay on the ground, when frightened or frightened, California quail run for cover or fly away.

Quail prefers running and has been clocked at 12 miles per hour.

Quails were hunted by the natives who lived in our area. In addition to eating quail meat, the natives used the quail’s plumage to decorate baskets and clothing. The quail has become an important item of trade and commerce. Today quail are still hunted for sport. More than one million California quail are slaughtered each year in the state. The season opens from mid-September to mid-October and can stay open until January; again, a valid hunting license and upland game bird validation is required to hunt these birds.

Fun facts:

  • Diet: Quails are omnivores, eating caterpillars, beetles, mites, seeds, leaves, berries and roots.
  • Average Lifespan: Most California quail live two to three years, although there have been exceptions. The oldest known California quail lived to be almost seven years old.
  • Threats: snakes, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, squirrels, domestic cats and humans.
  • The California quail became the state bird of California in 1932.
  • The California quail became the official bird of San Francisco in July 2000.
  • Although natural disasters such as fires are not always predictable, they significantly alter the balance of the ecosystem. It is essential to remember that the ecosystem will heal itself over time.

Forests, woodlands and grasslands will regenerate. The wildlife will return. But we can also support a healthy recovery by being habitat-conscious and replanting sources of food and shelter for our wildlife communities.

Master Gardeners will answer gardening questions at Magnolia Gift and Garden (1367 East Ave., Chico) during the local nursery tour on Friday and Saturday, February 25 and 26. Twelve nurseries take part in the tour, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days. Need a Butte County garden guide and three-year journal? They are available at Magnolia Gift and Garden.

The UC Butte County Master Gardeners are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension System, serving our community in a variety of ways, including 4-H, agricultural counselors, and nutrition and health programs. ‘physical activity. To learn more about the UCCE Butte County Master Gardeners and for help with gardening in our area, visit If you have a gardening question or problem, call the hotline at 538-7201 or email

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