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Northern Bobwhite

Colinus virginianus ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: ODONTOPHORIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

An emphatic, whistled bob-white ringing from a grassy field or piney woods has long been a characteristic sound of summers in the Eastern countryside. It’s quite a bit harder to spot a Northern Bobwhite, as the bird’s elegantly dappled plumage offers excellent camouflage. They forage in groups, scurrying between cover or bursting into flight if alarmed. Bobwhites have been in sharp decline throughout the past half-century, likely owing to habitat loss and changes in agriculture, and they are an increasingly high priority for conservation.

Yard Map Birds Eye View
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

Calls

Males and females give a loud whistled bob-white call that sweeps upward in pitch; the call is used mostly by unmated males during the breeding season. Both sexes use sharp whistles and soft contact calls to stay in touch with each other while moving and foraging. Adults point out food items to their chicks with a soft tu-tu-tu.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

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The Bobwhite Blues: Story in Living Bird Magazine.