Northern Bobwhite Fact File


The northern bobwhite is a small groundbird which is colored brown across the wings and upper body. Underneath they are colored chestnut with white speckles. The head features a black stripe running back from the bill through the eye and down to the neck. Above this is a white stripe and under is a white patch on the throat.

On top of the head is a small dark colored crest.

Their broken up pattern helps to break up their outline when among vegetation making it harder for aerial predators to spot them.

Females (known as hens) tend to be duller in color than the males. Their head tends to be buff rather than white.

They measure 28cm (11in) long with a wingspan of 35-40cm (14-16in) across. An average weight for the species is between 140 and 170g (4.9-5.99oz) Animals in the south of their range tend to be smaller than those from the north.


The northern bobwhite is an omnivore. Their diet is made up of seeds which are the primary food source but insects are also consumed. Other foods consumed include leaves, buds, berries and roots.

They will walk along the ground and forage by sight. Most of their feeding takes place in a flock.

northern bobwhite

Scientific Name

Colinus virginianus

Conservation Status

Near Threatened


140 and 170g



28cm (11in)


35-40cm (14-16in)


Average 1 year

Record 6 years



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This species is native to North America. Here they can be found in Cuba, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.

Introduced populations have been established in China, the Dominican Republic, France, Haiti, Italy, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, Portugal, New Zealand the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Some of these introduced populations have since gone extinct. In parts of their natural range the species is declining.


They make their home in forest, overgrown fields, shrubland and grassland. Areas managed with fire are preferred as they provide an open, grassy area.

northern bobwhite


Males court the female by turning their head from side to side, drooping his wings and fluffing up his feathers.

The pair will work together to find a nest site among dense growth. The nest is a shallow depression which is then lined with grass and leaves. An arch of grass and weeds may also be built over the nest to hide it.

In to the nest the female will lay between 12 and 16 eggs. These are colored white or buff.

Both sexes work together to incubate the eggs for the 23 to 24 day incubation period.

At hatching the young have downy feathers. By 1-2 weeks old they will make short flights.

A pair may produce two or three broods each season. New evidence suggests that pairs may change partners between broods.


The northern bobwhite quail lives in groups known as a covey. These groups include 15 to 30 birds. These coeys will maintain a small home range.

At night the group will gather together. They huddle with their front facing out and the body touching to help keep them warm.

Most of their time is spent on the ground where they can hide better from predators. If threatened they are able to fly.

northern bobwhite

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the northern bobwhite include birds of prey such as hawks, racoons, opossums, skunks and foxes.

Adults with chicks will flutter their wings to help distract predators from attaching the young.

Humans have impacted the population of northern bobwhites through changes in land use such as weed removal and the use of herbicides, forestry and habitat fragmentation.

In parts of their range this species is threatened through hunting. Small numbers may be collected for the pet trade and food.

Quick facts

As a popular gamebird this species has become one of the most studied bird species on Earth.

northern bobwhite

Photo Credits


By panza.rayada, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Middle One and Two

Public Domain


By DickDaniels ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Jackson, T.,2011. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals, Birds & Fish of North America. 1st ed. Leicestershire: Lorenz Books

Taylor, B. and Orr, R., 2021. The bird atlas. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley.

BirdLife International. 2016. Colinus virginianus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22728956A95000808. Downloaded on 24 February 2021. 2021. Northern Bobwhite Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 February 2021].

Audubon. 2021. Northern Bobwhite. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 February 2021]. 2021. Northern Bobwhite | Chesapeake Bay Program. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 February 2021].

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