The northern bobwhite, Virginia quail or (in its home range) bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) is a ground-dwelling bird native to Canada, 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. Habitat degradation has likely contributed to the northern bobwhite population in eastern North America declining by roughly 85% from 1966-2014. This population decline is apparently range-wide and continuing.
About 2 dozen
There are 21 subspecies of northern bobwhite, many of which are hunted extensively as game birds. One subspecies, the masked bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi), is listed as endangered with wild populations located in the northern Mexican state of Sonora 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). 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, 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
- C. v. aridus (Lawrence, 1853) - Jaumave bobwhite - west-central Tamaulipas to southeastern San Luis Potosí
- 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 Potosí
- C. v. marilandicus (Linnaeus, 1758) - Pennnsylvania bobwhite – 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) - Virginia bobwhite - Atlantic coast from Virginia to northern Florida and southeast Alabama
- 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 plant material and small invertebrates, such as ticks, snails, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, crickets, and leafhoppers. Plant sources include seeds, wild berries, partridge peas, and cultivated grains. It forages on the ground in open areas with some spots of taller vegetation.
Optimal nutrient requirements for bobwhite vary depending on the age of bird and time of year. For example, optimal protein and energy requirements for egg laying hens (23% protein) is much higher than males (16%).
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, Colorado front-range foothills to 7000 feet, 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. Another phrase to used mimic the call of the bobwhite is "Bobwhite, your (bob) peas (bob) ripe (white)?".
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 was once considered monogamous, but with the advent of radio telemetry, the sexual behavior of bobwhites has better been described as ambisexual polygamy. Either parent may incubate a clutch for 23 days, and the precocial young leave the nest shortly after hatching. The main source of nest failure is predation, with nest success averaging 28% across their range. However, the nest success of stable populations is typically much higher than this average, and the aforementioned estimate includes values for declining populations.
Brooding behavior varies in that amalgamation (kidnapping, adopting, creching, gang brooding) may occur. An incubating parent may alternatively stay with their young. A hen may renest up to 4 times until she has a successful nest. However, it is extremely rare for bobwhites to hatch more than 2 successful nests within one nesting season.
Northern bobwhite were introduced into Italy in 1927, and are reported in the plains and hills in the northwest of the country. Other reports from the EU are in France, Spain, and Yugoslavia. As bobwhites are highly productive and popular aviary subjects, it is reasonable to expect other introductions have been made in other parts of the EU, especially in the UK and Ireland, where game-bird breeding, liberation, and naturalisation are relatively common practices.
From 1898 to 1902, some 1300 birds were imported from America and released in many parts of the North and South Islands, from Northland to Southland. The bird was briefly on the Nelson game shooting licence, but: "It would seem that the committee was a little too eager in placing these Quail on the licence, or the shooters of the day were over-zealous and greedy in their bag limits, for the Virginian Quail, like the Mountain Quail were soon thing of the past." The Taranaki (Acclimatisation) Society released a few in 1900 and was confidant that in a year or two they might offer good sport; two years later, broods were reported and the species was said to be steadily increasing; but after another two years they seemed to have disappeared and that was the end of them. The Otago (Acclimatisation) Society imported more in 1948, but these releases did no good. After 1923, no more genuinely wild birds were sighted until 1952, when a small population was found North-West of Wairoa in the Ruapapa Road area. Since then bobwhite have been found at several localities around Waikaremoana, in farmland, open bush and along roadsides.
More birds have been imported into New Zealand by private individuals since the 1990s and a healthy captive population is now held by backyard aviculturists and have been found to be easily cared for, bred, and are popular for their song and good looks. A larger proportion of the national captive population belong to a few game preserves and game bird breeders. Though the birds would be self-sustaining in the wild if they were protected; it is tricky to guess what the effect of an annual population subsidy and hunting has on any of the original populations from the Acclimatisation Society releases. It would be fair to suggest most birds in the wild are no more than one generation from captive stock.
Bobwhites are popular throughout the world, with healthy captive populations everywhere where bird-keeping is enjoyed. Certain countries/states require permits and record keeping, as the possibility that an introduced population may compete with or spread diseases with native quail is a real threat.
Bobwhites are generally compatible with most parrots, softbills and dove. This species should, however, be the only ground-dwelling species in the aviary. Most individuals will do little damage to finches, but one should watch that nests are not being crushed when the species perches at night. Single pairs are preferred, unless the birds have been raised together as a group since they were chicks. Some fighting will occur between cocks at breeding time. One cock may be capable of servicing several hens at once, but the fertility seems to be highest in the eggs from the preferred hen. Aviary style is a compromise between what is tolerated by the bird and what is best for the bird. Open parrot-style type aviaries may be used, but some birds will remain flighty and shy in this situation. In a planted aviary, this species will generally settle down to become quite tame and confiding. Parents with chicks will roost on the ground, forming a circular arrangement, with heads facing outwards. In the early morning and late afternoon, the cock will utter its call, which, although not loud, carries well and may offend noise-sensitive neighbors. Most breeding facilities keep birds in breeding groups, on wire up off the ground. This keeps the birds clean and generally avoids diseases and parasites which can devastate a covey. Cages with mesh floors for pairs and trios are also employed, but usually where there is a photo-period manipulation to keep birds breeding through winter.
In the wild the bobwhite feeds on a variety of seeds of weeds, grasses, as well as insects. These are generally collected on the ground or from low foliage. Birds in the aviary are easily catered for with a commercial small seed mix (finch, budgerigar, or small parrot mix) when supplemented with greenfeed. Live food is not usually necessary for breeding, but will be ravenously accepted. High protein foods such as chicken grower crumble are more convenient to supply and will be useful for the stimulation of breeding birds. Extra calcium is required, especially by laying hens; it can be supplied in the form of shell grit, or cuttlefish bone.
In an open aviary hens will lay all over the show if a nesting site and privacy are not provided. Hens that do this may lay upwards of 80 eggs in a season which can be taken for artificial incubation - and chicks hand raised. Otherwise hens with nesting cover, that do make a nest (on the ground) will build up 8–25 eggs in a clutch, with eggs being laid daily
Mutations and hybridsEdit
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Some captive bobwhite hybrids recorded are between blue quail (scaled quail), Gambel's quail, California quail, mountain quail and it has long been suggested that there are Japanese quail hybrids being bred commercially; there is a distinct lack of photographic proof to substantiate this. Inter-subspecific hybrids have been common.
Several mutations have long been established, including Californian Jumbo, Wisconsin Jumbo, Northern Giant, Albino, Snowflake, Blonde, Fawn, Barred, Silver, and Red.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Northern Bobwhite.|
|Wikispecies has information related to Colinus virginianus|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article Virginian Quail.|
- Northern Bobwhite at BirdWeb (seattleaudubon.org)
- Northern Bobwhite info at About.com
- National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
- "Northern Bobwhite media". Internet Bird Collection.
- Northern Bobwhite photo gallery at VIREO (Drexel University)
- Interactive range map of Colinus virginianus at IUCN Red List maps