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A Commensal Relation of the California Quail with the California Ground Squirrel

E. Raymond Hall
Publication Information
6 (November-December)
From Field and Study

A Commensal Relation of the California Quail with the California Ground Squirrel

While walking along the lower trail on the south side of Strawberry Canyon in the Berkeley Hills, on August 25, 1927, at 5 P. M., my attention was attracted to a commotion, some twenty yards away on the opposite side of the creek, in a fringe of tar weed (Madia sativa) that grew along the edge of a perpendicular bank twp feet in height. I soon saw that the commotion was caused by a California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus grammurus beecheyi) pulling down the stalks of the tar weed in order to eat the seeds of that plant. Indeed, the squirrel actually climbed into the tops of some of the larger plants that were so intertwined as to form a support sufficiently strong to bear his weight. In climbing and reaching for the heads of the tar weeds that overhung the bank, a goodly number of seeds were shattered to the ground at the base of the bank. There, three California Quail (Lowhortux californica californica) made the most of the opportunity by eating the seeds as fast as they fell on the ground.

To me, the seeds had a not unpleasant, oily, resinous taste. During the seven minutes that I remained on watch, the animals proceeded a distance of between twelve and fifteen feet. The quail at the foot of the bank closely followed along below the squirrel. Once, the squirrel abruptly moved a distance of four feet between feeding positions. The quail followed; but whether or not the birds recognized the cause and effect involved, I do not know. Perhaps they did not even follow the squirrel but were attracted to the spot four feet distant only by the edible seeds that they perceived there. However this may have been, the phenomenon constitutes an interesting commensal relation not, in so far as I am aware, previously noted between these two speciess.

E. Raymond Hall

Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, September 8, 1927

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