Ocellated Quail Cyrtonyx ocellatus


Justification of Red List category
This species is listed as Vulnerable as it has been undergoing a rapid population decline over the past ten years as a result of increased demand for agricultural land due to human population increases, mining concessions in its stronghold of Guatemala and increased hunting pressure.

Population justification
Although a full population census is yet to be completed, the species is thought to be rare at all known sites in Guatemala, there are few recent records from Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua, and no recent records from El Salvador. Considering this, the population is thought to hold fewer than 10,000 individuals (K. Eisermann in litt. 2010), hence is best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals, which roughly equates to 1,500-7,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
This species is thought to have undergone a moderately rapid decline in the past decade, largely through the severe impacts of widespread human-induced habitat alteration and overhunting (R. Gallardo et al. 2012); forest loss within the species's range currently totals ~3% per decade (Tracewski et al. 2016). The rate of decline was suspected to total between 30-49% during the past 10 years as habitat loss and hunting increased throughout its stronghold of Guatemala as a result of human population increases and opencast mining (Eitniear and Eisermann 2009; K. Eisermann in litt. 2010).

Distribution and population

Cyrtonyx ocellatus occurs from south Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to north Nicaragua (Carroll 1994). Guatemala has been identified as a stronghold for this species, and it has been sighted at 11 different sites since 2000. It is considered to be rare at all of these sites and there have been few additional recent records from Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua. Considering this, and given that there have been no recent records from El Salvador, the total global population is now thought to number fewer than 10,000 individuals (Eitniear and Eisermann 2009; K. Eisermann in litt. 2010). It is thought to have once been widespread and fairly common across its range (R. Gallardo in litt. 2012), implying it has undergone a significant decline.


It inhabits the grassy understorey of open pine-oak woodland and brushy fields at elevations of 750-3,050 m (del Hoyo et al. 1994), feeding on fruits, seeds, small invertebrates and wood sorrell (R. Gallardo in litt. 2012). The species has also been found infrequently throughout human disturbed areas, some of which have been recently cleared and burned and all of which neighboured typical forested, brushy areas (R. Gallardo in litt. 2012). 


It is declining as a result of deforestation and habitat degradation (McGowan et al. 1995; P. Escalante in litt. 2007; R. Gallardo et al. 2012), the rate of which is set to continue or even increase over the next decade because of a rapidly growing human population and opencast mining concessions, which cover c.25% of current highland forest in Guatemala (Eitniear and Eisermann 2009; K. Eisermann in litt. 2010). Intensive grazing and extensive burning for grazing is also a serious and pervasive threat because of its severe impact on the species's subterranean food supplies (Johnsgard 1988; M. Bonta in litt. 1999). Hunting pressures almost certainly occur throughout much of its range (Carroll 1994), but birds are not often kept as pets in south Mexico (S. N. G. Howell in litt. 1998) contra Carroll (1994), and the overall impact of exploitation is unknown (P. Escalante in litt. 2005), although it is suspected that it will increase in the future (K. Eisermann in litt. 2010). The dense human population in the Guatemalan highlands, consisting mainly of small-scale farmers, causes extensive disturbance in the forest understorey (including in protected areas) by extensive collection of firewood, collection of leaf litter as organic fertilizer, and straying dogs; hence low reproductive success can be suspected (K. Eisermann in litt. 2012). There appears to be little suitable habitat for the species within protected areas in its range (P. Escalante in litt. 2005).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Few are known. The Ocellated Quail Conservation Area Project was proposed by the Honduran Ornithological Association in 2012 in Olanco, Honduras with the aim of protecting the species and its habitat through the establishment of a species management area. The association works with local communities to carry out both presentations and workshops, ground surveys and map out and delineate quail populations and areas of conservation in the vicinity of Vallecito (R. Gallardo in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to assess population size. Investigate the extent of hunting and take appropriate measures, including the use of awareness campaigns, to address these issues. Regularly monitor at certain sites throughout its range to determine population trends. Study the species's biology in the field. Protect significant areas of suitable habitat in a network of private and public reserves. Investigate the possibility of conservation on land with a lower stock density. Engage local communities at known sites in Honduras, using presentations and workshops (R. Gallardo in litt. 2012).


Text account compilers
Everest, J.

Benstead, P., Bonta, M., Calvert, R., Capper, D., Clinton Eitniear, J., Eisermann, K., Escalante, P., Gallardo, R., Howell, S., Keane, A., Mahood, S., Sharpe, C.J. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Cyrtonyx ocellatus. Downloaded from on 29/11/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/11/2023.