The native New Zealand quail was uncommon during early European settlement in New Zealand and considered extinct by 1870.
Californian quail were introduced to Nelson in 1865. Other provinces followed and populations expanded so rapidly that, in 1890, thousands of Californian quail were canned or frozen and exported from Nelson to London.
Later, the release of stoats and weasels for rabbit control took its inevitable toll and in some locations where quail were formerly numerous they disappeared completely. However, quail are still the most common of the introduced upland gamebirds and are found in both islands.
In much of the North Island quail habitats overlap those of the pheasant. In the South Island, quail are found in all regions but there are fewer in Westland and coastal Southland.
Unlike pheasants, quail are gregarious and live together in coveys of between 10 and 100 with exceptional coveys of up to Californian Quail400 birds being reported. Coveys break up into breeding pairs in late winter and the first eggs appear in late September. Nesting may continue through to February. The nest is concealed in thick cover on the ground and up to 20 eggs may be laid. After hatching the chicks are very active and are able to fly at three weeks.
The hunting season in most regions begins in May and continues until the end of August.