Living Bird Magazine
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus
- ORDER: Galliformes
- FAMILY: Odontophoridae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Codorniz Cotuí (Spanish)
- Colin de Virginie (French)
In places where bobwhites are common, they may eat bird seed from ground feeders in open backyards with shrub cover.
- Cool Facts
- Because of its history as a game bird, the Northern Bobwhite is one of the most intensively studied bird species in the world. Scientists have researched the impacts of various human activities, from pesticide application to prescribed burning, on both wild and captive bobwhites.
- Northern Bobwhites are divided into 22 subspecies, some of which were formerly considered to be separate species—such as the Masked Bobwhite, the Rufous-bellied Bobwhite, and the Black-headed Bobwhite. Although the females mostly look alike, the males vary dramatically from one subspecies to the next.
- Northern Bobwhites were thought to be monogamous until researchers began radio-tracking individuals to follow their activities. It turns out that both male and female bobwhites can have multiple mates in one season.
- The bobwhite genus is represented by more than 700 known fossils, dug up in sites ranging from Florida to Arizona to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Some of these fossils are at least 2.5 million years old.
- The oldest Northern Bobwhite on record was 6 years, 5 months old. They have short life spans but make up for it with prolific breeding abilities. Under good conditions, a bobwhite pair can produce 2 or 3 broods, totaling 25 offspring or more, in a single breeding season.