My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus

The northern bobwhite, Virginia quail or (in its home range) bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) is a ground-dwelling bird native to the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is a member of the group of species known as New World quails (Odontophoridae). They were initially placed with the Old World quails in the pheasant family (Phasianidae), but are not particularly closely related. The name “bobwhite” derives from its characteristic whistling call. Despite its secretive nature, the northern bobwhite is one of the most familiar quails in eastern North America because it is frequently the only quail in its range.

There are 21 subspecies of northern bobwhite, many of which are hunted extensively as game birds.

This is a moderately-sized quail and is the only small galliform native to eastern North America. The bobwhite can range from 24 to 28 cm (9.4 to 11.0 in) in length with a 33 to 38 cm (13 to 15 in) wingspan. As indicated by body mass, weights increase in birds found further north, as corresponds to Bergmann’s rule. In Mexico, northern bobwhites weigh from 129 to 159 g (4.6 to 5.6 oz) whereas in the north they average 170 to 173 g (6.0 to 6.1 oz) and large males can attain as much as 255 g (9.0 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 9.7 to 11.7 cm (3.8 to 4.6 in), the tail is 5 to 6.8 cm (2.0 to 2.7 in) the culmen is 1.3 to 1.6 cm (0.51 to 0.63 in) and the tarsus is 2.7 to 3.3 cm (1.1 to 1.3 in). It has the typical chunky, rounded shape of a quail. The bill is short, curved and brown-black in color. This species is sexually dimorphic. Males have a white throat and brow stripe bordered by black. The overall rufous plumage has gray mottling on the wings, white scalloped stripes on the flanks, and black scallops on the whitish underparts. The tail is gray. Females are similar but are duller overall and have a buff throat and brow without the black border. Both sexes have pale legs and feet.

The northern bobwhite’s diet consists of plants and small invertebrates, such as snails, grasshoppers, and potato beetles. Plant sources include grass seeds, wild berries, partridge peas, and cultivated grains. It forages on the ground in open areas with some spots of taller vegetation.

The northern bobwhite can be found year-round in agricultural fields, grassland, open woodland areas, roadsides and wood edges. Its range covers the southeastern quadrant of the United States from the Great Lakes and southern Minnesota east to Pennsylvania and southern Massachusetts, and extending west to southern Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and all but westernmost Texas. It is absent from the southern tip of Florida and the highest elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, but occurs in eastern Mexico and in Cuba. Isolated populations have been introduced in Oregon and Washington.

The clear whistle “bob-WHITE” or “bob-bob-WHITE” call is very recognizable. The syllables are slow and widely spaced, rising in pitch a full octave from beginning to end. Other calls include lisps, peeps, and more rapidly whistled warning calls.

Like most game birds, the northern bobwhite is shy and elusive. When threatened, it will crouch and freeze, relying on camouflage to stay undetected, but will flush into low flight if closely disturbed. It is generally solitary or paired early in the year, but family groups are common in the late summer and winter roosts may have two dozen or more birds in a single covey.

The species is generally monogamous, but there is some evidence of polygamy. Both parents incubate a brood for 23 to 24 days, and the precocial young leave the nest shortly after hatching. Both parents lead the young birds to food and care for them for 14 to 16 days until their first flight. A pair may raise one or two broods annually, with 12 to 16 eggs per clutch.

On to my photos:

These photos were taken in northeastern Kent County, Michigan, along side of a road near the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve one morning in May 2015, as I waited for the preserve to open.

Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Male

Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Male


Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus

Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus


Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Female

Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Female


Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Female

Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Female


Northern Bobwhite, Colinus virginianus

Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Male



Northern Bobwhite, Collins virginianus, Male

This is number 184 in my photo life list, only 166 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


27 responses

  1. We have here the common quail (Coturnix coturnix) and I think it’s very similar to N. Bobwhite.

    February 7, 2016 at 7:03 am

    • I think that you are right, since I’ve never seen a common quail, I cannily go by the descriptions. 🙂

      February 7, 2016 at 2:38 pm

  2. Thanks for all those excellent pictures of the Northern Bobwhite, most interesting.

    February 7, 2016 at 9:52 am

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      February 7, 2016 at 2:38 pm

  3. Excellent photos, and right there on the side of the road! Why don’t I ever see things like that?

    February 7, 2016 at 10:02 am

    • Thanks Allen! Well, they were moving 😉 , and it was just at sunrise when I saw them. I was raised to keep both eyes open and look for critters at those times. I was afraid that the photos would be unusable due to the lack of light.

      February 7, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      • I’ve been reading nature blogs for quite a while but I don’t think I’ve ever seen these birds on any of them, so they must be a fine catch!

        February 7, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      • Thanks again! I think that they are more common than people think, they’re just very good at hiding most of the time.

        February 7, 2016 at 5:53 pm

  4. Nice. Are they considered game birds? Out here in AZ, we have lots of Gambel’s quail. One will run out from under a busy, followed by half a dozen more – all running in a speedy little line. Fun to see.

    February 7, 2016 at 10:37 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! I know that they are hunted in other states, but it’s been so long since I’ve read the regulations here in Michigan that I can’t say for sure, but I think that they are. I’d love to see a “fancy” quail like the Gambel’s!

      February 7, 2016 at 2:44 pm

  5. Sooooo cute!!! PS, I see that you are counting days to spring but our local birds seem to think it’s already here (if you go by their singing, that is!)

    February 7, 2016 at 11:04 am

    • Thank you very much Lori! We have a few birds singing here when it’s nice, but they’re just practicing for when spring really arrives.

      February 7, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      • Hahahha!!!

        February 7, 2016 at 6:07 pm

  6. A welcome sight, these little Bobwhite beauties! I remember them from my youth when I lived back east. They would come up to the edge of the yard and make their liquid call. Here in this part of western Oregon we have what I think are California Quail.

    February 7, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    • Thank you Lavinia! The bobwhite are the only quail that we have here, I know that the ones out west are fancier birds, they must be quite a sight.

      February 7, 2016 at 5:45 pm

      • The black tassels on the heads of the males are something!

        February 11, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      • Thank you very much Lavinia!

        February 11, 2016 at 11:39 pm

  7. Lovely. I don’t think we have Bobwhites here, but the Gambel Quail are a bit similar. One of my favorite sights this time of year is mom running around with a choo-choo train of little ones following her.

    February 7, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Gunta!

      February 7, 2016 at 5:43 pm

  8. Anonymous

    Where exactly did you see them? I live a few miles from Pickerel Lake. Bobwhites are considered very rare for the county. The only areas I’ve heard of them being were near the Flat Iron Lake Preserve by Wabasis Lake and Alto area. Have you seen them recently?

    February 7, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    • I saw them along Ramsdell Dr. at the “S” curves just south of 10 Mile Rd. Those photos are from May, but I don’t think that quail move very far unless forced to.

      February 7, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      • Anonymous

        Thank you for replying so fast. That is crazy that I have never seen them before in this area. Thank you for posting this. I will be more on the look out for this species.

        February 7, 2016 at 10:22 pm

      • No problem. When I first saw them, I thought that they were domestic birds that had escaped from one of the farms in the area, but they held still long enough for me to make the identification. I knew that they were around, but finding them is difficult.

        February 8, 2016 at 1:24 am

  9. These are really attractive little birds. Thanks so much for the information and great shots.

    February 7, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare!

      February 8, 2016 at 1:19 am

  10. You really got some great shots, I really enjoyed the post.

    February 8, 2016 at 12:21 am

    • Thank you very much Charlie!

      February 8, 2016 at 1:25 am