The northern bobwhite is a ground-dwelling bird that is overall streaked or mottled reddish-brown and white, with a gray tail. Males have a distinctive dark brown cap and face with a white eyestripe and throat. Females are similar, except the white is replaced by buffy, yellowish brown, and the cap and face are not so dark. The “bob-WHITE!” call is distinctive, but it is mimicked by a number of other bird species.
Length: 10 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Statewide, in appropriate habitats.
Habitat and Conservation
Northern bobwhite are still fairly common in grasslands, shrubby pastures, hedgerows and woodland edges. However, populations have been declining in recent decades, due primarily to habitat loss and unfavorable weather during winter and nesting season. The Missouri Department Conservation is helping to reverse the downward trend in bobwhite numbers and improve the statewide population through several initiatives including public education, recreation opportunities and landowner assistance.
Northern bobwhites are primarily seedeaters, foraging on blackberries, wild grapes, grass seeds, ragweed seeds and many wild legumes such as beggars ticks, partridge pea and wild lespedeza. In spring they eat green plants, and during nesting and brood-rearing times insects and other invertebrates are major food items, particularly for chicks. In winter, acorns and pine seeds are important. Agricultural grains can provide nutrition when native foods are unavailable.
Northern bobwhite are fairly common permanent residents in appropriate habitat throughout Missouri. Northern bobwhite and three other New World quail species in the same genus are distinguished from other types of quail and are called "bobwhites." The word "quail" is dropped from their official common name.
Bobwhites live in coveys (groups of 5–30 birds) from autumn to the beginning of breeding season the following spring. Eggs are laid about 1 a day and hatch after 23 days. The young are the size of bumblebees and are able to leave the nest about a day after hatching. Up to 3 clutches can be produced before the season ends in about October.
The northern bobwhite is a popular game bird and is welcomed by farmers as a destroyer of weeds and harmful insects. For people who don't hunt, these native quail are beloved for their clear, loud song and exciting eruption when flushed.
There is a good reason why bobwhites are so well camouflaged; many species prey upon them, including mammals such as foxes, coyotes and raccoons, as well as hawks, owls, snakes and other species.
Where to See Species
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.