By: Marilyn Rutledge
“Bobwhite!” The peaceful call of the Northern Bobwhite, commonly referred to as Bobwhite Quail, is a peaceful sound that echoes through the woods where these moderately-sized birds live. The bobwhite is a ground dwelling bird with adults standing six to seven inches in height and weigh about six to seven ounces. The male’s upper parts are reddish-brown, while the belly is pale and streaked. There is a white stripe above the eye and a white patch framed in black on the throat. The female looks like the male with the exception of the white patch on the throat being caramel-colored instead. They travel in coveys of two or more families and once they pair with a mate, they stay with that mate until death. Both parents will incubate a brood for about 24 days with the young leaving the nest shortly after hatching. Both parents then lead the young birds to feed and care for them for about two weeks until their first flight. They raise 1 to 2 broods of 12 to 16 eggs per year.
The bobwhite is a non-migratory, year-round resident found mostly in the eastern and mid-western United States from southern Ontario and Maine, west to southern Minnesota, South Dakota, and southeastern Wyoming, and south to the Gulf coast and eastern Mexico. Their habitat includes active and fallow crop fields, pastures, grasslands, woodlands, and brushy areas. The bobwhite’s diet consists of grass seeds such as ragweed, panic grass, Johnson grass, spurges, crotons, chittamwood, dayflowers, black locust, sweetgum, sunflowers, crabgrass, foxtail, bull grasses, beggar’s-tick, smartweed, oaks, pines, and ash. In addition to grass seed, they consume legumes such as partridge pea and mild pea. The bobwhite also enjoy eating cultivated grains such as soybeans, wheat, millet, corn, tick trefoil, grain sorghum, buckwheat, rye, cowpeas, prairie clovers, and peanuts. Added to their diet is wild fruits such as mulberries, blackberries, bayberries, Muscadine, hackberry, plums, pokeberries, raspberries, strawberries, huckleberries, wax myrtle, grapes, rose hips, persimmons as well as berries of dogwood, sumac, poison ivy, and greenbrier. Finally the bobwhite eat insects and arthropods such as grasshoppers, flies, aphids, spiders, ants, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, potato beetles, snails, and others. They require daily easy access to water as well.
Since the bobwhite are ground dwelling birds, their nesting cover is normally native grasses or dense vegetation communities with open passable alleyways on or near the ground. They avoid areas that encourage rodent populations, fire ants, and snakes as these are major predators of bobwhite nests. The nest is a shallow depression lined with dry grasses located in grass clumps that range from 6 to 18 inches in height. Once hatched, the brood-rearing cover differs from the nesting cover to enable movement of quail chicks. As much as 70 percent of this area can be open with overhead concealment and a diversity of low-growing green foliage and abundant insects. During the winter months, a woody cover where snow is abundant is preferred by the bobwhite. Tangled thickets, dense grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation that conceal quail from predators are used as escape cover when located close to travel lanes, nesting, brood-rearing and loafing areas.
The bobwhite, once very popular and numerous, initially provided a subsistence food for settlers. During the early 1900’s however, hunting and trapping of quail became popular as markets developed to sell them. This practice, along with the reduction of food sources, nesting and protective covering has reduced the quail population by as much as 70 to 90 percent. Although these birds are not typical backyard birds, in the appropriate habitat they will visit ground feeders for seeds or cracked corn as well as ground-level bird baths. To encourage bobwhites to visit your area, one should avoid insecticide sprays and choose low shrubs for landscaping to make them feel secure. For more information, visit the internet and search either Northern Bobwhite or Bobwhite Quail.