Odontophoridae – New World quails

Native to America, having ‘toothed’ bill and lack of tarsal spurs forming their separate family

Commonly known as New World quails, it comprises a group of small ground-dwelling birds that inhabit a range of environments, from tropical rainforests to subtropical shrublands and temperate woodlands. These birds are part of the Galliformes order, including turkeys, chickens, and pheasants.

New World quails are relatively small, with compact bodies, short wings, and short tails that suit their terrestrial lifestyle. Despite their ability to fly, they are primarily ground-oriented and prefer to avoid predators by running rather than taking flight. Their powerful legs are not only adapted for rapid running but, in some species, are also equipped for digging in search of food.

These birds have a high tolerance for varying temperatures; some species can endure the cold climates of temperate zones, while others thrive in the warmth of the tropics. Adaptability to different climates is an advantage that has allowed them to diversify across the Americas.

Odontophoridae is primarily diurnal, foraging during the day for a varied diet that includes insects, seeds, vegetation, and tubers. Their foraging habits benefit the ecosystem as they help control insect populations and disperse seeds through their droppings.

These birds are known for their shyness, often heard more often than seen, with distinctive calls that can carry across their habitats. When threatened, they prefer to stay hidden or run to safety, using their camouflage to blend into the surrounding vegetation.

Nesting habits of New World quails involve simple structures on the ground, often concealed in dense vegetation to protect from predators. They lay a relatively large clutch of eggs, and both parents are involved in raising the young, who are precocial and can leave the nest shortly after hatching.

Several species of Odontophoridae, such as the Northern bobwhite and California quail, are popular game birds. They have been hunted for sport and food for centuries.