Northern Bobwhite (Bobwhite Quail)

Colinus virginianus


Photo of male northern bobwhite
Northern bobwhite, a type of quail, are ground-nesting grassland birds.

Odontophoridae (New World quails) in the order Galliformes


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).


Video of bobwhite quail in the wild.

Northern Bobwhite

The northern bobwhite calls "Bob White!" during mating season and "koi-lee" in the fall.


Bobwhite quail chick
Bobwhite Quail Chick
Newly hatched quail are the size of bumblebees. Although small, they soon leave their nests to eat tiny bugs.
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.

image of Northern Bobwhite Bobwhite Quail distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, in appropriate habitats.


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.

Life cycle

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.

Human connections

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.

Ecosystem connections

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.