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New World Quails: Odontophoridae

Northern Bobwhite Quail (colinus Virginianus): Species Account

Physical characteristics: This is one of the smaller Galliformes, weighing just 4 to 8 ounces (129 to 233 grams) and measuring a mere 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimeters). Females are smaller than males. Adult males have white throats and stripes on their faces; females have cream-colored faces and throats. Wings of the males also have distinct black markings which females lack.

Geographic range: Found from southern New England west through Ontario, Canada to southeastern Minnesota. Found also in eastern Florida and Wyoming, western Kansas, and Oklahoma southward throughout parts of Mexico. Introduced species are found on Both northern bobwhite quail parents incubate the eggs and care for the young after hatching. (John Snyder/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.) Caribbean Islands, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, British Columbia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and Cuba.

Habitat: Rather than pure grassland, the northern bobwhite prefers pine savannas (tropical or subtropical plant communities characterized by trees and shrubs among herbs and grass cover). It also lives in clearings of forested areas and in farmland. In the southeastern United States, this bird lives in pine savannas that are actually maintained and grown just for them. What is important is that habitats contain low-growing brush and vegetation, which is important for food as well as protection from predation.

Diet: They eat mostly seeds, but also fruits, invertebrates, and grean leafy materials. About 85 percent of their diet is vegetation, while 15 percent is animal. They do, however, survive on whatever is abundant given the weather and climate conditions. Females eat more insects than do males because they need more protein to produce healthy eggs.

Behavior and reproduction: Behavior of this species is similar to that of the rest of the family. The bobwhite has more calls than other species: one for food location, two parental calls, eleven to warn of danger, four pertaining to group movement, and six sexual. After breeding season, coveys change members and either grow larger or smaller. During this time, some birds travel nearly 60 miles (100 kilometers). Coveys are comprised of ten to thirty individual birds whose home ranges vary in size depending on quality of habitat.

Bobwhites are believed to have a flexible mating system. Unmated males make the famous "bob-white!" call that can be heard for great distances. Males engage in courtship displays that include puffing out their chests and exhibiting their feathered wings. The head lowers and is moved from side to side to ensure that the female notices his fine markings and coloring. Pairs begin forming in January, and nests are built in shallow bowls on the ground. Vegetation and dead grasses are used to cover and camouflage the nests. Clutch sizes average twelve to fourteen eggs, and they are laid at a rate of one per day. Incubation lasts twenty-three to twenty-four days and is performed by both parents, and if one mate dies, the other will take over.

Chicks leave the nests with the adults within hours of hatching and will fly within fourteen days. Both parents care for the young. Hatching success varies, but is rarely higher than 40 percent. Bobwhite females have been known to lay new clutches and renest as many as four times if necessary. Annual survival of chicks is typically less than 30 percent. Predators include hawks and other birds of prey, snakes, weasels, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and possums. When threatened, coveys will disperse suddenly in all directions, which often startles intruders so that none of the birds are caught.

Northern bobwhites and people: This species is widely hunted and raised for food. Conservation of the bobwhite is a primary concern because this particular hunting industry turns a huge profit.

Conservation status: Though this population is widespread and common, there has been a steady decline in numbers throughout recent years, primarily in the eastern United States. Conservationists believe this to be the result of reforestation, loss of habitat, and intensification of agricultural practices. Some populations have decreased by as much as 90 percent. The masked bobwhite, a subspecies, is considered Endangered in the United States and is the focus of management and conservation programs in many areas. ∎



Guthery, Fred S. On Bobwhites. College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 2001.

Perrins, Christopher. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Richmond Hill, Canada: Firefly Books, 2003.

Sibley, David Allen, Chris Elphik, and John B. Dunning, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 2001.

Web sites:

Chumchal, M. "Colinus virginianus." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Colinus_virginianus.html (accessed on June 10, 2004).

"Northern Bobwhite." ENature. http://www.enature.com/fieldguide/showSpeciesSH.asp?curGroupID=1&shapeID=964&curPageNum=20&recnum=BD0167 (accessed on June 10, 2004).

"Wildlife in Connecticut: Bobwhite." Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. http://dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife/factshts/bwhite.htm (accessed on June 10, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsNew World Quails: Odontophoridae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Northern Bobwhite Quail (colinus Virginianus): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, NEW WORLD QUAILS AND PEOPLE