In regions where Ruffed Grouse overlap with Northern Bobwhite, Ruffed Grouse typically are in more heavily forested areas. They are larger with a longer tail and neck, with a lighter and less mottled color pattern than Northern Bobwhite, and without the bobwhite’s strong facial markings. In the West, Northern Bobwhite has a restricted range but may overlap with California Quail, Gambel’s Quail, Mountain Quail, and Scaled Quail; these species are overall much grayer than bobwhite, and the first three sport a prominent topknot of feathers from the head.
Male Northern Bobwhite vary considerably, but females look similar across their range. Males in the Southeast have more extensive black on the throat and breast than birds elsewhere. Great Plains and Texas birds are grayer on the back. Eastern birds have rufous across the breast. An isolated and endangered Southwestern population, called the “Masked” Bobwhite, is nearly all black on the head and rufous on the breast. Females are not as variable and look very similar across their range. There are also extremely rare rufous adults that are almost entirely reddish brown.
In places where bobwhites are common, they may eat bird seed from ground feeders in open backyards with shrub cover.
Find This Bird
Despite their sharp population decline, it’s still possible to find Northern Bobwhite in fields, rangelands, and open forests over much of their range. Their call is one of the easiest to learn of all bird sounds. The two sharp, whistled notes really do sound like “bob-white!”—and the call carries a long distance, so if bobwhite are around you will probably know it long before you see them. Look for these unobtrusive birds pecking and scratching on the ground near to or underneath vegetation—or, more likely, bursting upward into a short flight of flurrying wings if you get too close.