Despite its secretive nature, the northern bobwhite is one of the most familiar quail in eastern North America because it is frequently the only quail in its range. There are 22 subspecies of northern bobwhite, and many of the birds are hunted extensively as game birds.
Northern Bobwhite, Bobwhite Quail
- Bill: Short, curved, brown-black
- Size: 10 inches long with 15-inch wingspan, round body
- Colors: Brown, buff, rufous, white, black, gray
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a white throat and brow stripe bordered by black. The overall rufous plumage has gray mottling on the wings and a gray tail, and the flanks show white scalloped stripes. Whitish underparts have black scallops. Females are similar but are duller overall and have a buff throat and brow without the black border. Both genders have pale legs and feet.
Habitat and Migration:
Northern bobwhites can be found year-round in agricultural fields, grasslands and open woodland areas. Their range covers the southeastern quadrant of the United States from the Great Lakes and southern Minnesota east to Pennsylvania and southern Massachusetts, and extending west to southern Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and all but westernmost Texas. These birds are absent from the southern tip of Florida and the highest elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, but are found in eastern Mexico and in Cuba. Isolated populations of these game birds have been introduced in Oregon and Washington.
The clear whistle "bob-WHITE" or "bob-bob-WHITE" call of these birds is most recognizable. The syllables are slow and widely spaced, rising in pitch a full octave from beginning to end. Other calls include lisps, peeps and more rapidly whistled warning calls.
Like most game birds, the northern bobwhite is shy and elusive. When threatened, it will crouch and freeze, relying on camouflage to stay undetected, but will flush into low flight if closely disturbed. These birds are generally solitary or found in pairs early in the year, but family groups are common in the late summer and winter roosts may have two dozen or more birds in a single covey.
These are generally monogamous birds, though some evidence of polygamy has been noted. Both parents will incubate a brood for 23-24 days, and the precocial young leave the nest shortly after hatching. Both parents will lead the young birds to food and care for them for 14-16 days until their first flight. These birds can raise 1-2 broods of 12-16 eggs per brood annually.
Attracting Northern Bobwhites:
Game birds are not typical backyard birds, but in the appropriate habitat these birds will visit ground feeders for seeds or cracked corn. They will also visit ground-level bird baths. Birders who want to encourage northern bobwhites to visit should avoid insecticide sprays and choose low shrubs for landscaping to help the birds feel secure.
- Montezuma Quail (Crytonyx montezumae)
- Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix)
- Crested Bobwhite (Colinus cristatus)