Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published in Animals: The International Wildlife Magazine 14:11 (November 1972), pp. 486-490. Published by Nigel Sitwell Ltd, London.


The three species of tree quails or wood-partridges, genus Dendrortyx, of Mexico and Central America are all surprisingly large — weighing up to one pound in the case of the largest species — and have relatively long tails that result in an overall body length of from 9 to 16 inches. Their beaks are large and heavy, and are related to their abilities to tear apart and consume fruits, flower buds, and similar materials.

Three species of tree quails have been described, all of which occur in moist montane forests, especially the mist-shrouded cloud forests that occur at elevations too high and too cool to support tropical rainforests. These forests, usually lush with bromeliads and epiphytic orchids, are both relatively rare and often inaccessible. Additionally, the birds are exceedingly shy and difficult to see.

So it is not surprising that the tree quails are the least-known of all the North American quail species, and many museums have few or no specimens. The species most commonly found in museums is the largest, the long-tailed tree quail (D. macroura), which ranges along the western cordillera from Jalisco to Oaxaca, and eastwards along the Valley of Mexico to Veracruz. In Veracruz it is replaced by a smaller quail (D. barbatus), which is known from so few specimens that its range is still highly uncertain. Evidently it extends only from extreme south-eastern San Luis Potosi to central Veracruz. The third species, the buffy-crowned tree quail (D. leucophrys), occurs south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the mountains of southern Chiapas, and also extends into Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Like many birds of the dense tropical forests, tree quails are far more often heard than seen, and at dawn and particularly at dusk the birds sometimes produce a massed chorus that can be almost deafening. In all three species the typical call is a three- or four-syllable whistle which is loud and penetrating. The native Mexican names chiviscoyo for the bearded tree quail, or guachocho (in Guatemala) and chirascuá (in Costa Rica) for the buffy-crowned tree quail, provide a good indication of the cadence characteristics of their calls.

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