Merriam's Montezuma Quail

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Merriam's Montezuma Quail

Cyrtonyx montezumae merriami

ListedJune 14, 1976
DescriptionA small fowl.
HabitatDry forest with grassy glades.
FoodPlant matter and invertebrates.
ReproductionLays eggs in a ground-nest.
ThreatsHabitat degradation and hunting.


Merriam's Montezuma quail is the smallest quail in North America, with a body length of about 7 in (18 cm). It has a compact, short-tailed body. The breast and belly of the male are colored purple-brown, the back brown with white streaks, and the sides are brightly spotted-white. The face is marked with a distinctly marked white-and-black pattern. The hen is more cryptically dull-brown colored.


Merriam's Montezuma quail feeds on the ground on seeds, fruits, bulbs, and small invertebrates. It forms monogamous pairs from March to May, and nests from late June to September. The clutch size is 6-14 eggs. These are incubated for 25-26 days, mainly by the female. The chicks are mobile very soon after hatching, and are soon taught by their parents how to find food. The mature family unit is called a covey, and is typically comprised of 6-10 birds.


Merriam's Montezuma quail occurs in dry pine and oak forests, with dense grassy interglades. It typically occurs at altitudes from 3,500-10,000 ft (1,060-3,000 m).


Merriam's Montezuma quail is a local (or endemic) subspecies of the more widespread harlequin quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae ). It only occurs in a small area of the state of Vera Cruz, Mexico, in the vicinity of Mount Orizaba.


The most important threat to Merriam's Montezuma quail is overgrazing of its habitat by cattle. It is also hunted. Because of its small range and population size, it may also be vulnerable to catastrophic disturbances, such as extensive wildfire.

Conservation and Recovery

The most important need for conservation of the Merriam's Montezuma quail is to greatly reduce the density of cattle grazing on its habitat. Habitat management by local prescribed burns might be useful in stimulating the growth of important plant foods, while preventing excessive fuel build-ups that could result in more catastrophic wildfires. Because of the rarity of this small quail, hunting should no longer be allowed.


Instituto Nacional de Ecología
Av. Revolución, 1425
Col. Campestre, C.P. 01040, Mexico, D.F.


Johnsgard, Paul A. 1988. The Quails, Partridges, and Francolins of the World. Oxford University Press, New York. p. 264.