Several species of quail are scattered across the United States, including the California quail and the bobwhite quail. The species have different coloring but similar features and nesting habits. They tend to nest on the ground under vegetative overhang, but they don't burrow into the ground. Quail are in more danger from predators than many bird species.
They don't use the protection offered by the height of trees, but quail look for sheltered locations for their nests. They seek the protection of thickets, briars, shrubs or tall clumps of grass that are thick and tangled at the top but open and airy at ground level. This makes it harder for predators to spot them, and gives them a place to run -- deeper into the thicket, for example -- when they feel threatened.
When building a nest, quail don't burrow into the ground. They look for natural hollows or depressions at the base of thick vegetation, or they scratch at the dirt with their sharp claws to create a depression. Both parents gather leaves, twigs and other vegetative debris to line the nest before the female lays her eggs. The nests can be rather large to accommodate numerous eggs -- females can lay up to 28 eggs in one nesting cycle, although 12 or 13 are more common.
To combat the harsh weather, quail gather in groups called coveys. These groups can roost together on lower branches of trees, snuggling at night to share body warmth, or on the ground under overhanging vegetation. When on the ground, they normally sit in a circle at night with their heads facing outward, allowing them to share body heat inside the circle. During the day, the quail forage in pairs or small groups and return to the covey's preferred location in the evening.
Quail can't fly well or far, but they leave the ground with a fast, loud and startling display when threatened by a predator. This can discourage predators and help get the quail out of range. The babies are mobile from almost the moment they hatch, allowing the parents to move away from the nest quickly; freshly broken eggs attract many predators such as foxes and snakes. Quail are fast runners, able to dash into thickets and grass clumps where predators such as coyotes can't reach them. Even with their adaptations to avoiding predators on the ground, quail have a high mortality rate. Only 5 to 30 percent of quail survive to maturity. This is one reason why quail lay so many eggs; it's the only way to ensure enough quail live long enough to breed again.