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Bobwhite Quail

Northern bobwhite
Adult male
Adult female
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Galloanserae
Order: Galliformes
Family: Odontophoridae
Genus: Colinus
Species: C. virginianus
Binomial name
Colinus virginianus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

About 2 dozen


Ortyx virginiana (Jardine, 1834)[2]

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. There are 21 subspecies of northern bobwhite, and many of the birds are hunted extensively as game birds. One subspecies, the Masked Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgewayi), is listed as endangered with wild populations located in Sonora, Mexico, and a reintroduced population in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona.


This is a moderately-sized quail and is the only small galliform native to eastern North America. The Bobwhite can range from 24 to 28 cm (9.4 to 11.0 in) in length with a 33 to 38 cm (13 to 15 in) wingspan. As indicated by body mass, weights increase in birds found further north, as corresponds to Bergmann's rule. In Mexico, Northern Bobwhites weigh from 129 to 159 g (4.6 to 5.6 oz) whereas in the north they average 170 to 173 g (6.0 to 6.1 oz) and large males can attain as much as 255 g (9.0 oz).[3][4] Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 9.7 to 11.7 cm (3.8 to 4.6 in), the tail is 5 to 6.8 cm (2.0 to 2.7 in) the culmen is 1.3 to 1.6 cm (0.51 to 0.63 in) and the tarsus is 2.7 to 3.3 cm (1.1 to 1.3 in).[5] 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.



There are twenty-one recognized subspecies in 3 groups. 1 subspecies is extinct.

  • Eastern Group
  • Grayson's Group
    • C. v. graysoni (Lawrence, 1867) - Grayson's Bobwhite - west central Mexico
    • C. v. nigripectus (Nelson, 2015) - Puebla Bobwhite - eastern Mexico
  • Black-breasted Group
    • C. v. godmani (Nelson, 1897) - Godman's Bobwhite - eastern slopes and mountains of central Veracruz
    • C. v. minor (Nelson, 1901) - Least Bobwhite - northeast Chiapas and Tabasco
    • C. v. pectoralis (Gould, 1883) - Black-breasted Bobwhite - eastern slopes and mountains of central Veracruz
    • C. v. thayeri (Bangs and Peters, 1928) - Thayer's Bobwhite - northeast Oaxaca
  • Masked Group
    • C. v. atriceps (Ogilvie-Grant, 1893) - Black-headed Bobwhite - interior of western Oaxaca
    • C. v. coyolcos (Statius Müller, 1776) - Coyolcos Bobwhite - Pacific Coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas
    • C. v. harrisoni (Orr and Webster, 1968) - southwest Oaxaca
    • C. v. insignis (Nelson, 1897) - Guatemalan Bobwhite - Guatemala and southern Chiapas
    • C. v. ridgwayi (Brewster, 1885) - Masked Bobwhite - north central Sonora
    • C. v. salvini (Nelson, 1897) - Salvin's Bobwhite - coastal and southern Chiapas


The Northern Bobwhite's diet consists of plants and small bugs, like snails, grasshoppers, and potato beetles. Plant sources include grass seeds, wild berries, partridge peas, and cultivated grains. It forages on the ground in open areas with some spots of taller vegetation.[6]


The Northern Bobwhite can be found year-round in agricultural fields, grassland, open woodland areas, roadsides and wood edges. Its 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. It is absent from the southern tip of Florida and the highest elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, but occurs in eastern Mexico and in Cuba. Isolated populations have been introduced in Oregon and Washington. The Northern Bobwhite has also been introduced to New Zealand.


The clear whistle "bob-WHITE" or "bob-bob-WHITE" call is very 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. It is generally solitary or paired 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.


The species is generally monogamous, but there is some evidence of polygamy. Both parents incubate a brood for 23 to 24 days, and the precocial young leave the nest shortly after hatching. Both parents lead the young birds to food and care for them for 14 to 16 days until their first flight. A pair may raise one or two broods annually, with 12 to 16 eggs per clutch.

Similar species

The Central American Spot-bellied Bobwhite looks very similar, but lacks black facial coloration. The Asian Rain Quail is larger in size and has a black breast.


External links

  • NOrthern Bobwhite at BirdWeb (
  • Northern Bobwhite info at
  • National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
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