Northern Bobwhite

Colinus virginianus

Ashok Khosla
  • PHASIANIDAE
  • Gallinaceous Birds
  • Galliformes
  • Codorniz cotuí
  • Colin de Virginie
Introduction

A chubby, robin-sized bird, the Northern Bobwhite runs along the ground in groups and is found in grasslands mixed with shrubs or widely spaced trees throughout much of the Eastern United States.  One of Audubon's Common Birds in Decline, the number of Northern Bobwhites has plummeted more than 80 percent since 1967.

Fun Fact

The Northern Bobwhite has been used extensively for nearly 80 years in laboratory research to study the behavioral and physiological effects of pesticides on wildlife.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

A clear, whistled "Bob-White".

Appearance Description

Chubby, robin-sized bird that runs along the ground in groups. Brown body and striped face (black-and-white facial stripes in males, brown and tan in females). A clear, whistled "Bob-White". Listen (© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio).

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Throughout much of the Eastern United States, from Nebraska, Wisconsin, southern Ontario, and Massachusetts south to Florida and southern Mexico. Disappearing from northern parts of its range in Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and New England.

Habitat

Grasslands mixed with shrubs or widely spaced trees. Besides grass cover, bobwhite groups (coveys) need shrubby or low growing woody cover for loafing and roosting during summer heat, winter snow and wind, or during inactive periods in the middle of the day. Between 5 and 25 percent of a covey’s home range should be evenly distributed in this type of woody cover that is 3 to 6 feet tall.

Feeding

Highly opportunistic feeder that primarily eats the seeds of agricultural crops and weeds. Also forages for the seeds of forest and rangeland vegetation, especially from plants in the understory and along field margins. Forages and moves in a “covey” (a group of 5 to 30 birds).

Reproduction

Northern Bobwhite has a high mortality rate and a high reproductive rate. Females may lay up to 3 clutches in a season, each with 12-14 eggs. Unlike most quail, chicks are able to leave the nest about a day after hatching.

Migration
  • 5.5 million
  • 5.5 million
  • 31 million 40 years ago
  • 80 percent since 1967
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: The disappearance of suitable bobwhite habitat, due to large-scale agriculture, intensive pine-plantation forestry, and development, is the most dominant threat to the long-term survival of these common grassland birds. Fire ants, which compete for food, attack nests, and provoke humans to spray pesticides, may also be playing some smaller role in the decline.

  • Outlook: The Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, formed to help bobwhites and other grassland birds, is beginning to reverse declines of bobwhite habitat.
What You Can Do
  • Preserve Farmlands
    Promote strong conservation provisions in the federal farm bill, especially the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to keep marginal farmlands idle and supports millions of acres of good bird habitat. Contact your county’s office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA) to find out how to increase the number of acres devoted to helping birds dependent on farmlands.

  • Save Grasslands
    Be proactive with your local, state and national officials to increase the amount of habitat that can support breeding grassland birds, in particular support smart growth and protection of open space. Promote late mowing (preferably early August in most parts of the country) in hayfields and healthy public and private ranchlands devoted to livestock grazing. Urge parks to devote large parcels to prairie restoration. Volunteer at an Important Bird Area).
  • Support Sustainable Forests
    Push for the protection, restoration and expansion of large forest blocks to sustain the full range of forest-loving species, especially the Canadian boreal forest where logging, mining and drilling are taking their toll. Back active management (including burns) to meet specific habitat requirements on government-owned lands and incentives for active forest management on private lands. Promote deer management that allows for the maintenance of forest understory plants.

  • Stop Invasive Species
    Work with county agricultural officials to help fight the spread of non-native annual grasses. Support strong federal, regional, state, and local regulations and research and management to combat non-native, invasive species.
More Information
Natural History References
Conservation Status References

Brennan, L.A. (1999). Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Northern_Bobwhite

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin