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On the Ground: The Oregon Conservation Strategy at Work

February 2009: Happy Birthday, Oregon

At the sesquicentennial, many of the reflections on Oregon’s first 150 years of statehood evoke Oregonians’ connection to the land and its natural resources. Conserving these habitats and species for current and future generations is at the heart of the Oregon Conservation Strategy. A closer look at a precocious bird and those who work to keep it at home on the landscape illustrates a proactive approach to management that helps species before they become threatened or endangered.    



Male sage grouse
The mountain quail is one of Oregon’s two native quail species and the only one found throughout the state.

Mountain quail prefer the higher elevations. Their survival strategies make them an elusive bird, more often heard than seen. If you do see a covey feeding along the side of the road or on a shrubby slope, you’ll understand why they are considered among Oregon’s most charismatic birds. Easily identified by a distinctive long black plume on their head; both male and female are gray and brown with chestnut-colored throats and white markings on the side.

Ground-dwelling birds with a penchant for walking, mountain quail nests have been found in a variety of habitats and locations including rock crevices, grass clumps, under shrubs, inside root wads and under logs. Their extraordinary reproductive behavior is found in only a few other bird species. A female may lay eggs in two nests during the same time frame, producing as many as 26 eggs between the nests. She then incubates one nest while her male partner incubates the other, increasing the chance of chick survival.

Mountain quail are a Conservation Strategy species in the Basin and Range ecoregion .


Male sage grouse
Females may lay eggs in two nests in the same time frame—she then incubates one while her male partner incubates the other.

For decades biologists, birders and hunters knew the mountain quail was fading from the Great Basin. By 1980, it had disappeared from many areas in eastern Oregon, southeastern Washington and western Idaho.

Why populations took a dive is the subject of discussion—habitat loss and degradation; land use changes; alterations in natural fire cycles; and human development rise to the top of most lists. In an effort to reintroduce the charismatic bird in the eastern part of the state, the U.S. Forest Service, ODFW and Oregon State University game bird researchers began a multi-year mountain quail research and translocation program in 2001.

“We knew mountain quail were a good candidate for translocation. They adapt very well to a variety of habitats. They lay 10 to 12 eggs at a time with pretty good nest success and they eat a variety of plants and grasses,” said Dave Budeau, ODFW upland game bird coordinator. “But to see how well they do in the long-term, we had to put birds on the ground in sufficient numbers.”

The group didn’t have to look far to find birds for the project, mountain quail are relatively abundant west of the Cascades. During the project, more than 1,000 birds have been released in six areas of central, northeastern and southern Oregon. Release locations are within known historic range that have suitable habitat. Habitat restoration projects are ongoing at several of the sites.

At the same time, Washington, Idaho and Nevada biologists concerned about declining quail populations in their states began sharing notes with each other and Budeau, resulting in an ad hoc working group.

Male sage grouse
Biologists from Nevada, Idaho and Oregon toured mountain quail trap sites in southwestern Oregon to study habitat.

“The birds don’t recognize boundaries, so neither can we,” said Budeau who hosted a four-state meeting this month at ODFW offices in Roseburg. “All of us are working on mountain quail reintroductions, and we have a lot to learn from each other.”

The group shared research information, reported on upcoming projects, discussed disease testing and toured locations in southwest Oregon where birds for the multi-state translocation projects are trapped. Monitoring and project results showed success and failure—information from both will help with the design of future projects. One thing everyone agreed on was the flexibility and adaptability of the species.

“Mountain quail are amazing birds,” said Michael Pope, Oregon Conservation Strategy coordinator who did his PhD research in Wildlife Science on mountain quail. “As soon as I thought I knew what a mountain quail would do in a situation, I was surprised. It’s this great adaptability that makes us believe that we can successfully reestablish populations.”

For information on Oregon’s mountain quail translocation projects, visit the ODFW website . E-mail Dave Budeau, david.a.budeau@odfw.oregon.gov


In the Umpqua Valley south of Roseburg, the unique geology of the Klamath Mountain ecoregion becomes evident on the horizon. Green-folded and rocky mountains defy identification except by the most knowledgeable native or geologist—it is here that several major geographic regions of California and Oregon meet and merge including the Coast, Cascades and Klamath ranges.

Male sage grouse
Trapper Wilson demonstrates mountain quail trapping techniques.

Early in the morning, fog hangs close to the ground, but the tour van is soon above it as it climbs the gravel timber road on the east slope of the Coast Range. Steve Denney, ODFW regional manager, explains the complex geology and plant and animal life to the group of biologists from Idaho, Nevada and Oregon who have come to see where the mountain quail they use for their reintroduction projects are trapped.  

As oak woodlands, agricultural and ranch lands disappear beneath the fog, Denney says, “You can find just about any western Oregon native in this country—elk, bobcat, bear, cougar, fox, skunks, ringtail, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, falcons, songbirds, hawks, every species of owl. And, it’s great mountain quail habitat.”

The first stop is along a spur road dominated by Douglas fir sprinkled with cedar, oak, madrone and a variety of shrubs. Jerry Wilson, a trapper who is part biologist, weatherman, hunter and scout, talks about mountain quail habitat and trapping techniques.

Like any good trapper, he is reticent to give up his secrets, but after listening to him explain how he tracks and traps quail, you know it is skill honed over many years and not secrets that makes him successful.

Two additional stops in different habitat types, point out the mountain quail’s flexibility in habitat choice but also its preference for brushy landscapes with heavy cover and open spaces.

The out-of-state biologists are especially interested in learning about the quails’ native habits and their movements within the habitat and expect to use the information to inform their choice of relocation sites.

Learn about the Klamath Mountain ecoregion on the ODFW website. The region has been identified as one of 200 locations important for species diversity by the World Wildlife Fund. Visit their website and click on Klamath-Siskiyou forests .


Male sage grouse
Mountain quail chicks.

Practice citizen science. If you live east of the Cascades, let ODFW know if you see mountain quail when you are out and about. Lots of important information about Oregon’s species comes from birders, hunters, hikers and campers. Use the mountain quail observation form in the game bird section of ODFW’s website or e-mail Dave Budeau .

Tax Checkoff for Wildlife: You can help conserve Oregon's wildlife and their habitats by making a donation on your state tax form. The Nongame Wildlife Fund helps with the conservation of the 88% of Oregon's wildlife that are not hunted, trapped or angled and supports habitat restoration and species management. For more information.

On the Ground newsletter archives

The Oregon Conservation Strategy provides a blueprint and action plan for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by ODFW with the help of a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, conservation groups, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, and representatives from agriculture, forestry and rangelands.

Meg Kenagy
Oregon Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator
(503) 947-6021

Contact Meg Kenagy

For strategy information
Contact Michael Pope

For a copy of the Strategy
Contact Karen Buell at ODFW.

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