Species spotlight: Bobwhite quail

Bobwhite quail spend more time on the ground than in the air. The white facial and throat patches distinguish males from females.

Their numbers have declined, but are still highly regarded

Bobwhite quail (Colin’s virginianus) are small birds that prefer walking more than flying. They are native to many areas of the U.S., including the southeastern states. Bobwhites are the only members of the quail family that naturally inhabit the southeast.

These birds are mostly reddish-brown, and have small amounts of black, brown, gray and white throughout their bodies. They each have a dark stripe originating at their beak, running through the eye to the base of the skull.

It is easy to distinguish bobwhite males from females. Males have prominent white patches on their throats and just above the dark facial stripe. In females, those areas are light brown or tan.

The average adult bobwhite quail weighs between 5.6 and 6.3 ounces. Their name comes from their most-recognized call, which sounds like “bob WHITE!”

In the wild, their average life span is less than a year.

These quail live similar to turkeys in that they spend the majority of their time on the ground, and prefer walking as their main mode of travel. They are, however, very capable of flying, and are known to burst into flight at great speed when approached by hunters and other predators.

Like turkeys, bobwhite quail lay eggs in ground nests.

Bobwhite quail utilize heavy undergrowth as their main habitat, and can be found along hedgerows of fields, vegetation in pine-hardwood forests, grasslands and open pines.

Their main food source as adults is seeds, nuts and berries, but breeding females also eat insects. For young quail, insects make up the vast majority of their diet until turning to seeds, nuts and berries once they are about 16 weeks old.

Population decline

Quail populations have declined greatly throughout the south in the past several decades. Changes in forest habitat and in agricultural practices are responsible for much of their decline. Almost every meat-eating animal — and even fire ants — prey on quail. The deck is clearly stacked against these small birds, but small wild populations still prevail.

Bobwhite quail are highly regarded as game birds, but most hunting for them is done on preserves that raise the birds in controlled settings, then release them in the wild just before each hunt. They are hunted with dogs which sniff out the birds, alert the hunters to their presence, then flush the birds into flying.

In Louisiana, Fort Polk WMA and Peason Ridge have good quail habitat, but make sure you check regulations and open dates carefully.

Hunters often refer to bobwhites as “Gentleman Bob.”

These birds spend much of their time in groups of 8 to 20 birds called coveys. When roosting, they form circles, with each bird facing outward. This allows them to detect threats from all angles, which will prompt the whole covey to take flight at once.

About Brian Cope 221 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.