Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus

adult male, Florida
James M. Wedge/VIREO
adult female
Brian E. Small/VIREO
adult male, Southwestern (Masked Bobwhite)
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male, Eastern
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male, Texas
Brian E. Small/VIREO

Description

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.

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.

Feeding 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Conservation

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.

Range

Permanent resident throughout range, which extends south to Guatemala.

Listen

songs
2. Calls #1
3. calls #2
4. calls #3

Similar Species

adult male

Montezuma Quail

Despite its bold and bizarre pattern, this little quail of the Mexican border regions can be remarkably hard to see. When approached, pairs or coveys of Montezuma Quail may crouch motionless until they are practically stepped upon; then they explode into flight, to whir away across the hillsides. Fall and winter coveys usually have fewer than ten birds, and they often range over a very limited area.

Vireo

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