The Northern Bobwhite, Virginia Quail or (in its home range) Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus) is a ground-dwelling bird native to the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is a member of the group of species known as New World Quails (Odontophoridae). They were initially placed with the Old World Quails in the pheasant family (Phasianidae), but are not particularly closely related. The name “bobwhite” derives from its characteristic whistling call. Despite its secretive nature, the northern bobwhite is one of the most familiar quails in eastern North America because it is frequently the only quail in its range. Habitat degradation has likely contributed to the northern bobwhite population in eastern North America declining by roughly 85% from 1966-2014. This population decline is apparently range-wide and continuing.
It has the typical chunky, rounded shape of a quail. The bill is short, curved and brown-black in color. This species is sexually dimorphic. Males have a white throat and brow stripe bordered by black. The overall rufous plumage has gray mottling on the wings, white scalloped stripes on the flanks, and black scallops on the whitish underparts. The tail is gray. Females are similar but are duller overall and have a buff throat and brow without the black border. Both sexes have pale legs and feet. [Wikipedia]
An emphatic whistled ‘bob-white’ ringing from a grassy field, or piney woods has long been a characteristic sound of summers in the Eastern countryside. It’s quite a bit harder to spot a Northern Bobwhite, as the bird’s elegantly dappled plumage offers excellent camouflage. They forage in groups, scurrying between cover or bursting into flight if alarmed. Bobwhites have been in sharp decline throughout the past half-century, likely owing to habitat loss and changes in agriculture, and they are an increasingly high priority for conservation. [All About Birds]
Northern Bobwhite Facts [All About Birds]
- Because of its history as a game bird, the Northern Bobwhite is one of the most intensively studied bird species in the world. Scientists have researched the impacts of various human activities, from pesticide application to prescribed burning, on both wild and captive bobwhites.
- Northern Bobwhites were thought to be monogamous until researchers began radio-tracking individuals to follow their activities. It turns out that both male and female bobwhites can have multiple mates in one season.
- The bobwhite genus is represented by more than 700 known fossils, dug up in sites ranging from Florida to Arizona to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Some of these fossils are at least 2.5 million years old.
- The oldest Northern Bobwhite on record was 6 years, 5 months old. They have short life spans but make up for it with prolific breeding abilities. Under good conditions, a bobwhite pair can produce 2 or 3 broods, totaling 25 offspring or more, in a single breeding season.