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Species Guide
A photo of a Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), male
Northern Bobwhite, Male

Northern Bobwhite

Colinus virginianus

The Northern Bobwhite, known scientifically as Colinus virginianus, is a ground-dwelling bird native to North America. This species, also referred to as the Virginia quail or simply bobwhite quail within its range, is a member of the New World quail family. It is characterized by its rufous plumage, with males sporting a distinctive white throat and brow stripe bordered by black, and females exhibiting a similar but duller pattern with a buff throat and brow. The Northern Bobwhite is a moderately-sized quail, with a length ranging from 24 to 28 cm and a wingspan of 33 to 38 cm.

Identification Tips

Males can be identified by their white throat and brow stripe, which are sharply bordered by black. Their rufous body is mottled with gray on the wings and marked with white scalloped stripes on the flanks. Females are similar in appearance but have a buff throat and brow, and lack the black border. Both sexes have pale legs and feet, and a short, curved bill that is brown-black in color.


The Northern Bobwhite inhabits a variety of environments including agricultural fields, grasslands, open woodlands, roadsides, and woodland edges. It is well adapted to areas where open ground is interspersed with taller vegetation.


This bird's range extends through the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico, and Cuba. It has been introduced to other regions such as the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. Notably, the species has been extirpated from certain areas in the Northeastern United States and Canada.


The Northern Bobwhite is known for its secretive nature, often remaining motionless to avoid detection when threatened. It may burst into low flight if disturbed. The species typically forms family groups in late summer, and larger communal roosts during winter.

Song & Calls

The Northern Bobwhite's call is a clear, whistled "bob-WHITE" or "bob-bob-WHITE," which rises in pitch and is easily recognizable. It also emits a variety of other sounds including lisps, peeps, and warning calls.


Bobwhites exhibit ambisexual polygamy, with either parent capable of incubating the eggs. The precocial chicks are quick to leave the nest after hatching. Nest success is variable, often influenced by predation.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Northern Bobwhite consists of plant material and small invertebrates. They forage on the ground, consuming seeds, berries, peas, grains, and various insects.

Conservation status

The Northern Bobwhite is classified as Near Threatened due to significant population declines caused by habitat loss and degradation. The subspecies known as the Masked Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi) is listed as endangered.

Masked Bobwhite

The Masked Bobwhite, a subspecies of the Northern Bobwhite, is critically imperiled with declining or possibly extinct populations in its native range. Conservation efforts, including captive breeding and reintroduction, are ongoing to stabilize its numbers.

Similar Species

The Northern Bobwhite may be confused with other quail species, but its distinctive call and plumage patterns are key identification features that help distinguish it from its relatives.

Diet and Feeding

Bobwhites primarily feed on seeds and insects, with their diet varying seasonally. They are ground foragers and may require different nutrient levels during breeding season compared to other times of the year.

Conservation status

The Northern Bobwhite is currently facing a near-threatened status, with an alarming decline in population numbers due to habitat loss and changes in land use and fire regimes.

Masked Bobwhite

The Masked Bobwhite, a subspecies of the Northern Bobwhite, is endangered and has faced extirpation in the United States. Conservation efforts are in place to protect and reintroduce this subspecies to its native habitat.

Northern Bobwhite Sounds

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Northern Bobwhites on Birda


More New World Quail

A photo of a California Quail (Callipepla californica) , male

California Quail

Callipepla californica
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