Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Northern Bobwhite

Colinus virginianus

The only native quail in the east. Its whistled bob-white! call is a familiar sound in spring in farmland and brushy pastures. The birds are heard more often than seen; although not especially shy, they often keep within dense low cover. During fall and winter, bobwhites live in coveys, averaging about a dozen birds. At night they roost on the ground in circles, tails pointed inward, heads pointed out.
Conservation status Has disappeared from much of the northern part of its range, and has declined seriously even in more southern areas. The causes for these declines are not well understood. At northern edge of range, many may be killed by unusually harsh winters, but this does not explain its widespread vanishing act. The "Masked Bobwhite," a subspecies extinct in Arizona and endangered in Mexico, is now being reintroduced into southern Arizona with only limited success.
Family New World Quail
Habitat Farms, brushy open country, roadsides, wood edges. Found in a wide variety of semi-open habitats, including brushy meadows, overgrown fields, or where pastures or agricultural fields are next to hedgerows or woodlots. "Masked Bobwhite" of southwest inhabits ungrazed native grasslands.
The only native quail in the east. Its whistled bob-white! call is a familiar sound in spring in farmland and brushy pastures. The birds are heard more often than seen; although not especially shy, they often keep within dense low cover. During fall and winter, bobwhites live in coveys, averaging about a dozen birds. At night they roost on the ground in circles, tails pointed inward, heads pointed out.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, Florida
  • adult female
  • adult male, Southwestern (Masked Bobwhite)
  • adult male, Eastern
  • adult male, Texas
Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on ground, head down, searching for food by sight; sometimes moves up into vines or shrubs. Feeds in flocks (coveys) at most seasons, alone or in family groups during breeding season.


Eggs

Usually 12-16. White to pale buff. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-24 days. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. If danger threatens young, parents may put on distraction display. Young can make short flights at 1-2 weeks, not full-grown for several more weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching; are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. If danger threatens young, parents may put on distraction display. Young can make short flights at 1-2 weeks, not full-grown for several more weeks.

Diet

Includes seeds, leaves, insects. Diet varies with season and place. Eats many seeds (especially those of legumes), also leaves, buds, berries, acorns, roots, insects, spiders, and snails. May eat mostly seeds in winter, with more insects eaten in summer. Young birds may eat mostly insects at first.


Nesting

In courtship, male turns head to side to show off pattern, droops wings, fluffs up feathers, makes short rushes at female; also walks slowly around female with tail fanned, feathers fluffed up. Nest site (apparently chosen by both members of pair) is on ground among dense growth. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow depression lined with grass, leaves. Grass and weeds are often woven into an arch over nest, making it very well hidden, with entrance at one side.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Permanent resident throughout range, which extends south to Guatemala.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout range, which extends south to Guatemala.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Clear, whistled bob-WHITE or poor-bob-WHITE.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.