Northern bobwhite



The northern bobwhite, also called the bobwhite quail, is a small to medium sized bird living year-round in North America. Its range includes middle and eastern United States, occasionally extending as far west as Colorado. In the Northeast, these birds can be found as far north as Maine, but the further west their range extends the less far North it reaches. Some Canadian provinces are home to bobwhites, and even the southern tips of Florida and Texas have these animals as native species. Populations of these animals have been introduced into western states such as Oregon and Washington where they are used for hunting. There are three other bobwhite species: the spotted-bellied bobwhite, the Yucatan or black-throated bobwhite, and the crested bobwhite. Northern bobwhites are the most widespread species in this group. Other bobwhite species do not have the white head; therefore this can be used to determine the species of bobwhite you see. Some species have the same markings except in a color other than white. One way to tell the difference between male and female northern bobwhites is that the males have black markings on their wings while the females do not. Also females have yellow beaks while males’ beaks are black. Groups of up to thirty individuals raised in the same area will form groups called coveys.


Adult northern bobwhites can grow up to ten inches (25 cm) long from beak to tail and can have a wingspan of up to fifteen inches (38 cm). Both of these measurements are about the size of a robin, but the bobwhite is much “fatter.” This is displayed by the weight of both birds. Bobwhites weigh around six to seven ounces (170-198 grams), about twice the weight of a robin! Bobwhites also stand about six to seven inches (15-18 cm) tall from the ground to the top of their head.


Bobwhites are omnivores, eating both animals and plants. Most of the animals they eat are invertebrates such as spiders, grasshoppers, snails, ants, and beetles.  Plant matter includes fruits, berries, and seeds. For adults, about eighty-five percent of their diet consists of vegetation, while the rest is insects. Young bobwhites are pretty much the opposite, eating mostly insects but occasionally plants. The food for each day also depends largely on the season. During the summer, insects are more plentiful, and the adults may eat more insects than normal. Winter kills most of the insects or forces them to seek shelter. Due to this, adults probably eat almost completely plant matter in the winter.


The most recognizable call of these birds is the “bob-WHITE” call from which they get their name. During this call, the pitch will rise a whole octave in between the widely-spaced syllables. There are several other calls including one that sounds like “hoyee”. Click here to listen to some their different calls. Warning calls, which are not included at that link, are rapidly whistled.


Bobwhites like living in fields, grasslands, and open woodlands. Nests are normally found within thirty feet from a change of landscape and within fifty feet from a place of bare ground. This may give them more room to move around and the bare ground gives them a place to take flight if need be. If living in forests, bobwhites prefer areas where the growth is not as thick such as areas recovering from fires, agriculture, or the cutting down of trees.

 Mating and nests

Although they were once thought to be monogamous, bobwhites are now known to raise broods with more than one mate in a season. Both males and females may mate multiple times each season. As early as February, pairs of males and females will start forming. The further North the individuals live, the later pairs  will start forming. Nest-making and egg-laying occurs between May and August with the start of this season tied to rainfall. Nests, which consist of a softball-sized depression in the ground and are lined with dead grasses, may take up to four hours to build. Either the male or the female may construct them. Up to three females may share a nest if cover is scarce. During the beginning of the breeding and nesting season, up to eighty-five percent of the nests have a dome or cover made of grasses. Later in the nesting season, such nests are not as common.

Eggs and young

In between six and twenty-eight eggs are laid by each female. This is the largest single clutch of any bird. The actual number is probably lower if more than one female is using a nest. Females will lay one egg each day, and both the males and the females will incubate. Each egg will incubate for around twenty-three days. Because the eggs are laid across a long span, they will not hatch all at the same time. In fact if twenty-eight eggs are laid, the first one will hatch even before the last one is laid! After hatching, the young are VERY small, about the size of a bumblebee! Both parents protect the young birds although the young feed themselves. At the age of two weeks, these baby birds will be able to fly. A high percentage of young will die or be killed by predators before being able to reproduce. There is an annual death rate of in between seventy and eighty percent for all ages.


Bobwhites are a very popular game bird for hunting, and vehicles may also claim the lives of several of these animals. Although there are many bobwhite deaths due to humans, predators also kill many bobwhites annually. Such predators include the following: hawks, raccoon, skunks, foxes, and opossums. Parasites are common in many bobwhites, although the majority of cases do not result in death. Habitat loss also negatively affects the population of bobwhites. The majority of these birds die before even reaching the age of one year.

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Photo credits:

  • Northern bobwhite – vastateparksstaff
  • Mystery animal – Public domain

One Response

  1. Lana
    Lana at |

    Wow! The babies are small!!

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