Northern Bobwhite/Colinus virginianus
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 22 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 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). 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). 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 and a gray tail, and the flanks show white scalloped stripes. Whitish underparts have black scallops. Females are similar but are duller overall and have a buff throat and brow without the black border. Both genders have pale legs and feet.
There are twenty-one recognized subspecies, from 3 groups. 1 subspecies is extinct:
C. v. aridus (Lawrence, 1853) - Jaumave Bobwhite - west-central Tamaulipas to southeastern San Luis Potosi
C. v. cubanensis (GR Gray, 1846) - Cuban Bobwhite - Cuba and the Isle of Pines
C. v. floridanus (Coues, 1872) - Florida Bobwhite - peninsular Florida
C. v. insulanus (Howe, 1904) - Key West Bobwhite - Florida Keys†
C. v. maculatus (Nelson, 1899) - Spot-bellied Bobwhite - central Tamaulipas to northern Veracruz and southeastern San Luis Potosi
C. v. marilandicus (Linnaeus, 1758) - coastal New England to Pennsylvania and central Virginia
C. v. mexicanus (Linnaeus, 1766) - eastern United States west of Atlantic Seaboard to Great Plains
C. v. taylori (Lincoln, 1915) - Plains Bobwhite - South Dakota to northern Texas, western Missouri and northwest Arkansas
C. v. texanus (Lawrence, 1853) - Texas Bobwhite - southwest Texas to northern Mexico
C. v. virginianus (Linnaeus, 1758) - nominate - Atlantic coast from Virginia to northern Florida and southeast Alabama
C. v. graysoni (Lawrence, 1867) - Grayson's Bobwhite - west central Mexico
C. v. nigripectus (Nelson, 2015) - Puebla Bobwhite - eastern Mexico
C. v. godman (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
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. The Northern Bobwhite forages on the ground, in open areas with some spots of taller vegetation.
Northern bobwhites can be found year-round in agricultural fields, grassland, open woodland areas, roadsides and wood edges. Their 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. These birds are absent from the southern tip of Florida and the highest elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, but are found in eastern Mexico and in Cuba. Isolated populations of these game birds have been introduced in Oregon and Washington. The Bobwhite has also been introduced to New Zealand.
The clear whistle "bob-WHITE" or "bob-bob-WHITE" call of these birds is most 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. The superhero Quail Man from the Nickelodeon TV cartoon, Doug, uses the "bob-WHITE" whistle as his emergency call.
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. These birds are generally solitary or found in pairs 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.
These are generally monogamous birds, though some evidence of polygamy has been noted. Both parents will incubate a brood for 23–24 days, and the precocial young leave the nest shortly after hatching. Both parents will lead the young birds to food and care for them for 14–16 days until their first flight. These birds can raise 1-2 broods of 12-16 eggs per brood annually.
Attracting Northern Bobwhites
Game birds are not typical backyard birds, but in the appropriate habitat these birds will visit ground feeders for seeds or cracked corn. They will also visit ground-level bird baths. Birders who want to encourage northern bobwhites to visit should avoid insecticide sprays and choose low shrubs for landscaping to help the birds feel secure.
The Spot-bellied Bobwhite looks very similar, but has no black facial coloration and lives in Central America. The Rain Quail has a black breast, lives in Asia, and is larger.