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Bobwhite -a Bobby Dazzler

Updated on August 9, 2015

Bobwhite illustration

Bird and nature in colour {1913-14}
Bird and nature in colour {1913-14}


This is another in the series about North American birds. Here we look at the Bobwhite a game bird, through the eyes of past ornithologists. Along with modern day accounts of this wonderful bird. Bobwhite species belong to the Order of birds known as Galliformes and the family Odontaphorideae and the genus Colinus. In former times they placed in the family Tetraonidae which had about 200 species comprising the Grouse, Pheasants, Partridges , Quails and Bobwhites.

It was also divided into three sub-families-a} The Perdicinae, containing the true Quails and Partridges of the old world,b}- the odontophorinae, The Bobwhites and the so called 'Quails and partidges' of the New World and c}-Tetraonidae the Grouse with representatives in the northern parts of both hemispheres.

The name Bobwhite is derived from the familiar utterance of the bird. In the north and west it was referred to as the Quail and in the south the Partridge

Poem -Bobwhite

" I see him on the zig zag rail,

The Cheery little fellow'

White purple leaves are hurling down,

And scarlet ,brown and yellow.

I hear him when the air is full

of snow-down on the thistle;

All in his speckled jacket trim

'Bobwhite ! Bobwhite! " is his whistle"


Public domain
Public domain | Source

According to Chapman

According to Chapman -" All the Tetraonidae {the former family name} are ground dwelling birds and their plumage of blended browns, buffs and grays brings them into such close harmony with their surroundings that as a rule, we are unaware of their presence until, with a whirring of the short, stiff rounded wings it springs from the ground at our feet. It is this habit of 'lying close' as sportsmen term it, in connection with their excellent flush, which makes the members of this family the favourites of the hunter and only the most stringent protective measures will prevent their extinction as their haunts become settled"

Description of the Bobwhite

The bill of the adult Bobwhite is stout, hen-like and black. Eye dark hazel; Chin, throat, forehead and line through the eyes and along the sides of the neck are white. Black band across the top of the head, extending backwards on the sides, and from bill below the eyes. the lower part of the throat is black, scapular and lesser coverts, red brown, intermixed with ash and sprinkled with black. The wings are a plain dusky colour, the tail ash sprinkled with black. The breast and belly a pale yellowish white. Legs are a very pale ash colour.

The colour of the adult female is duller, black band on the breast almost indistinct, and the throat is buff instead of white.

History and lifestyle of the Bobwhite

Mr.Wells W Cooke stated that " Many a cardinal, or Carolina wren and Bobwhite rounds out its whole contented life within ten miles of its birthplace" While this may be true it is now known that come the autumn Bobwhites, or some of least, seem possessed with a desire to migrate. they become restless, and bewildered hunters have been known to call them crazy. Watson states that in the Autumn of 1903 " I whistled to one that was just across the street from Elmwood and it answered my call and came within a few feet of where I was standing on our front lawn, and then I remembered the lines of Henry T Staunton----

" Ah, here it, and I see it

Sitting on the rail

It is real, can it be it,

My old friend the Quail?

Out of season, out of cover,

Turned a migrant turned a rover,

Sitting, boldly , in my sight,

Calling; 'White-Bobwhite !


The mating season of the Bobwhite

The mating season commences in April and nesting usually late April or early May. The nest is always upon the ground and is a very simple affair. It may be found along side a patch of overhanging weeds, a tall bunch of grass, under a small bush or in a brier patch by the side of the fence. There are records of a nest being discovered in the grass not ten feet away from a main road, being constantly passed by and the hen could be seen sitting and could just as easily see the passers by.

The nest, such as it is, is built by the female, it being a saucer shaped cavity or scrape in the ground, which is slightly lined with grasses and bits of vegetable waste. Usually the nest is open but now and then it may roughly arched. In it are laid from ten to twenty dull, white coloured eggs, often partially stained a buffy yellow by contact with the grass in which they lie.

Nests containing s many as 30 eggs are on record, however, when so many are encountered in the same nest it is probably the result of the eggs produced by two separate females.

In his book 'Life and Mortality, Mr.Thomas G Gentry says-" That eighteen days are required for their hatching. Whence the father is not fortunate enough to have a harem a part of the work falls upon him. while the mother seeks food and recreation. But where their are several females, the work is divided amicably among them, each sitting about half a day at a stretch, then calling her relief with a low note, if there be only two, the male takes no part in the incubation task whatsoever."

" Should the family be larger, two females will sit side by the side of the eggs, there being too many for one breast to cover. meantime the husband remains close by, chirping encouragement in a low tone and between making the fields vocal with his loud clear whistle"

However, on this subject of incubation there seems to be a diversity of opinion during days gone by. Major Bendire said " Incubation lasts about twenty four days, both birds assisting" Miss Merriman stated-"The bird's domestic life is particularly interesting from the part the male plays in the family helping to build the nest, feeding his mate on the eggs, and in the case of death brooding in her place"

It is of course almost impossible to reconcile these records.

Masked Bobwhite pair


Bobwhite ever on the alert.

Bobwhite are ever on the alert for the approach of predators of which they have many including man, which may be their biggest enemy of all. they will only take to the wing as a last resort,relying on their camouflage and running under cover. However, should the need arise to take to the wing it is sudden with a great whirring of wings which propel them at great speed away from danger. Unlike many other birds of their ilk they do not fly as group but scatter individually making for cover which may be a wood or scrub. Once the danger has passed the dominant male will call them together again.

When they fly to their place of roosting it is with silent wings. This soft flight gives them more chance to make to their roost unseen by predators. They roost in such a manner that every direction is observed by the group. They tend to form a circle with their tails facing inwards, with their heads facing outwards, this allows not only observation but a means of quick escape should this be necessary.

" The close covey vexed with various woos,

While sad they sit their anxious mother wound,

With dismal shade the closing net descends,

Or by the sudden gun they flutter, fall

A vile with blood is stained their freckled down "

The young of the Bobwhite

The young of the Bobwhite leave their place of birth as soon as they are out of the shell and are capable of feeding themselves on seeds and insects immediately. The parents remain with them and lead their young to where the food is copious, while at the same time being ever watchful of their enemies.

" Under the alders, along the brooks,

Under the Hemlocks, along the hills.

Spreading their plumage with furtive looks,

Daintily pecking the leaves as will;

Whirr! and they flit from the startled sight

And the forest is silent, the air is still "

During the 1800's the Department of Agriculture at Washington ordered a careful study of the economic value of the Bobwhite. In the exhaustive report to the Department, Dr.Sylvester D.Judd stated-" The results obtained may be thus summed up. The Bobwhite is probably the most useful abundant species on the farm. It is one of the most omnivorous birds, consuming large quantities of weed seeds and destroying many of the pests with which the farmer has to contend. It does not injure grain, fruit or any other crop"

The conclusion is that the Bobwhite habitually eats many harmful insects, and noxious weed seeds, making the Bobwhite a welcome ally. The insects that the bird consumes includes the potato beetle, the bean leaf beetle, wire worms and their larvae. Yet despite this value as a pest destroyer, few birds have been persecuted than these birds were in days gone by.

" The thundering guns are heard on every side,

The wounded coveys, reeling, scatter wide;

The feathered field mates,bound by natures tie,

See mothers,children in the carnage lie"


'Birds that hunt and are hunted ' Neltje Blanchan-{ { 1898}
'Birds that hunt and are hunted ' Neltje Blanchan-{ { 1898}

Notes from Audubon on the Bobwhite

John James Audubon says of the Bobwhite. -" This is the common name given to the bird in the eastern and middle districts of our union is that of the quail, but in the eastern and southern states it is called the partridge . It is abundantly met with in all parts of the United States, but more especially towards the interior. In the States of Ohio and , where the birds are very abundant, they are to be seen in the markets both dead and alive in large quantities.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb

      Thank you for visiting and for leaving your comment. I hope that you do have the opportunity to see the birds. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I do hope that I get to see this lovely quail. Very nicely done!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Randy Godwin, Hi,

      Thank you for conveying your information which was interesting and welcome. It is the same in the UK Pheasants and Partridges are raised for the guns . A case of the rich catering for the rich . Best wishes to you.

      DDE, Thank you for visiting once again and for leaving your usual kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you for your kind comments. I will try to locate a map of their distribution. Best wishes to you.

      pinto2011, Thank you for your appreciated comments , and you are right about beautiful creatures being killed. But as Randy Godwin {Below }confirms the native Indians and early settlers relished the meat which was readily available to them. Best wishes to you.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      summerberrie, Nice to meet you.

      Thank you for being the first to visit and for conveying your interesting story. I would use the picture on the hub if you would be kind enough to send it. Thank you also for kind and generous comments. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A truly interesting write up on BOBWHITE -A BOBBY DAZZLER, another informative and useful post from you thanks for sharing good information.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 

      5 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Forgot to mention, Bobwhite quail are one of the most delicious of all fowl. The Native Americans and early settlers relied on them for food as they were in abundance and easy to trap. The whole covey would enter a trap if just one bird entered. Trapping them is illegal now in Georgia.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 

      5 years ago from Southern Georgia

      What a coincidence as I called up a quail yesterday. The fire ants has had a detrimental effect on the quail population here but they seem to be making a comeback. Meanwhile the quail hunting clubs are raising quail to be hunted but when they are released into the wild they don't last anytime if not shot because they don't forage in the wild and are not aware of the predators who eat them.

    • pinto2011 profile image


      5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Hi D.A.L.! Very fascinating detailing of this beautiful creature. It is really a pity that this beautiful and useful creature was widely hunted.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      5 years ago from United States

      So interesting! I don't know if I've ever seen a bobwhite but I'm familiar with California quail. Here in TX we have lots of wonderful birds but no quail I've seen. I study 19th century literature and have often read about bobwhites and really didn't know what they were. I love your quotes. That makes this very useful for helping people understand the importance of the bird in a historical sense. I wonder if you can add a map of their territory and a video?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Loved reading every bit of this. We have 300 acres we manage for quail (bob white). We've always had English Setters to "hunt" with.Mostly they run in field trials. Loved those days when we went to field trials on those Georgia Plantations in stands of pine. The quail here have just started their iconic whistle for the spring mating season. It is always fun seeing a pair "zig-zag" along. Thanks for the beautiful hub! I have a picture of one from our farm if you'd like I'd be glad to send it your way to use.


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