Northern Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail

Northern Bobwhite, also known as the Virginia quail, is native to parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Cuba. It is a member of the Odontophoridae family and is named for its distinctive whistled “bobwhite” call.

Northern Bobwhite Quail Characteristics

The northern bobwhite is a ground-dwelling bird. They are small in stature and round-bodied like other New World quail. In color, they are streaked or mottled brown and white the entire length of their bodies down to their gray tails. Males or cocks are dark brown on the head and face with a white stripe across their eyes and throats. Females or hens are similarly marked, except the stripes on their eyes and throat are tan instead of white, and the color on their head and face isn’t as dark as it would be on a male. Males also have black markings on their wings that females do not have.

The mature size of a Northern Bobwhite quail varies with the latitudes that they live in. The further north that they live, the larger they will be. Mexican northern bobwhite quail weighs 4.6 to 5.6 ounces(129 to 159 grams). On the other hand, in the north, their average weight is around 6 ounces (170 grams), and large males can weigh up to 9 ounces (255 grams). Weighing just 4 to 8 ounces (129 to 233 grams) and measuring a mere 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimeters). Females are smaller than males. Adult males have white throats and stripes on their faces; females have cream-colored faces and throats. The males’ wings also have distinct black markings, which females lack.

Northern Bobwhite Quail Range

The northern bobwhite is the only New World quail native to the eastern United States and Canada. The northeastern boundary of their range is southern Ontario, while the northwestern boundary is in southeastern Wyoming. The southwestern boundary is southern Arizona, and the southeastern boundary is Florida. The following American states have populations of northern bobwhite quail. I’ve included New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire because they’re historical bobwhite quale ranges. However, due to various causes, the birds have been effectively expatriated from these parts of their range. There are still Bobwhite quail in these states, but they’ve all been raised in captivity.

I’ve also included Arizona. Southern Arizona and Sonora have Masked Bobwhite Quail. These particular sub-species were considered extinct in the 1920s, but a population was discovered in Sonora in the 1960s. Wildlife officials in the United States and Mexico have carefully restored them back to their native range. They’re back but still considered an endangered species.

Additionally, I’ve included Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Hawaii. These states all have northern bobwhite quail, but they’re an introduced rather than a native species.

There are 23 recognized subspecies of northern bobwhite quail.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

The following Mexican states have populations of northern bobwhite quail.

  • Chiapas
  • Coahuila
  • Guerrero
  • Jalisco
  • Nuevo Leon
  • Oaxaca
  • San Luis Potosi
  • Sonora
  • Tabasco
  • Tamaulipas
  • Veracruz
  • Zacatecas

In Central America, there are northern bobwhite quails in

  • Guatemala

In the Caribbean, there are northern bobwhite quails in

  • The Dominican Republic
  • Haiti
  • Cuba

Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat

Northern bobwhite quail live in grasslands, farm fields, and deciduous/pine forests. They need a habitat that is at least 50% covered by weeds such as ragweed, pigweed, foxtail, panic grasses, tick trefoil, and or smartweeds and legumes such as dutch clover, red clover, sweet clover, and alfalfa. The remainder of their habitat needs to be about 30% grasses and 20% brushy cover. Source

In the northern parts of their range, they depend on areas with brushy cover to keep the snow from reaching ground level in the winter. Otherwise, their food sources would be completely covered.


Bobwhites eat many seeds from plants such as koaita, ragweed, and croton. As stated above, it’s crucial that these hyperproductive seed producers make up at least 50% of the plant mix within their habitat.

They also consume a lot of insects. This is particularly true for hens and developing chicks. Hens need insects to provide the minerals such as calcium to produce healthy eggshells. On the other hand, as they grow, chicks need the extra protein that insects provide.


Bobwhite quail will use surface water when available; however, it is not crucial to their existence. They can obtain all the water they need from their food, such as plants and insects. They also consume water from dew and or snow when it’s present.

Nesting Cover

Bobwhites quail build their nests on the ground in clumps of grass grown in the previous growing season. Therefore, areas that have been overgrazed are not conducive to bobwhite nesting.

Protective Cover

Protective cover for bobwhites should have a canopy dense enough to conceal them from raptors entirely. This canopy should be at least two feet high, leaving the ground beneath free from debris that would obstruct movement. Sand sagebrush, shinnery oak, sumac, and mesquite are all examples of plants that provide an excellent protective cover.


Northern Bobwhite Quail Behavior

Bobwhites are social birds. They fed along the ground in groups of 10 to 20 birds called coveys. If they feel threatened, they will usually prefer to run from danger. When the pressure becomes intense, they will fly to put some distance between themselves and the perceived threat. However, as soon as they land, they will resume running until they have found a suitable hiding place. At night, they roost on the ground in a tight circle, their tails facing inward and their heads facing outward. In this way, they conserve body heat and help each other scout for danger.

Mating Behavior

Northern bobwhite quail cocks live peacefully with each other until the mating season rolls around in March when they fight for the attention of females. Both males and females put on mating displays.

These birds are generally monogamous; however, males sometimes raise broods with multiple females, and vice versa; females sometimes raise broods with multiple males.

They will also sometimes sneak their eggs into pheasant or chicken nests.

Their nest consists of a scrape that is 6 inches across and two inches deep. They line this scrape with grass and other dead vegetation. Additionally, they often weave a canopy of dead grass over the top of their nest to completely conceal it.

Their clutch size averages around 17 eggs, and their incubation period is 22 to 24 days.

Their chicks are born covered with down and are ready to follow their parents outside the nest soon after hatching.

Northern bobwhite quail can raise up to 3 broods per year.

Also see:

Montezuma Quail

Scaled Quail


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