The Northern Bobwhite, Virginia Quail or (in its home range) Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus) is a ground-dwelling bird native to North America and northern Central America 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.
Adult male (above) and female, by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Northern Bobwhites are distinguished by a dark cap stripe behind the eye along the head, black in males and brown in females. The area in between is white on males and yellow-brown on females. The body is brown, speckled in places with black or white on both sexes, and average weight is five to six ounces (145-200 grams).
The Northern Bobwhite's song is a rising, clear whistle, bob-White! or bob-bob-White! The call is most often given by males in spring and summertime. Other vocalizations include a range of squeaky whistles.
Northern Bobwhite calls
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Virginia Quail's "bob-White!" song
This fowl primarily inhabits areas of early successional growth dominated by various species of pine, hardwood, woody, and herbaceous growth. However, quail habitat varies greatly throughout its range which extends from Mexico east to Florida and north into the Upper Midwest and Northeast. In the southern U.S., pearl millet has been identified as a preferred food source for Bobwhite Quail.
It forms what are known as "coveys", groups of five to 30 birds, during the non-breeding season (roughly October-April). During the breeding season, typically beginning in mid-April, the Bobwhite coveys dissolve. Social pairs are typically formed between individuals of unknown relationship. These social pairings potentially result in the formation of a mate bond and subsequent female fertilization and egg formation. Eggs are laid at a rate of approximately 1 per day, and they hatch after 23 days. Eggs are normally white in color with a more pointed end than normal chicken eggs.
Both males and females can incubate nests, with most nests predominantly incubated by females. If the first clutch of eggs is unsuccessful, a breeding pair (may be the same pair or a different pair as that which led to the previous nesting attempt) will attempt to lay, incubate, and hatch additional clutches. If the clutch is successful, chicks are precocial and will leave the nest approximately 24 hours following hatching. The breeding season continues until mid-October, and successful nesters (females) can potentially lay, incubate, and hatch up to 3 clutches.
The Bobwhite Quail is a popular and economically important gamebird, particularly in the US Southern States. It is the official game bird of the U.S. States of Tennessee, Georgia, and Washington. Habitat degradation threatens wild populations, so it is propagated in captivity in large numbers for release on hunting preserves or natural areas as required by US wildlife agencies. It is moderately resilient to hunting pressure, and locally can disappear entirely from overhunting, as has occurred time and again. It is also found in many aviaries and is on display in some zoos.