Northern Bobwhite

(Colinus virginianus)

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Colinus virginianus

Colinus virginianus
Photo by Kenneth Bader

The popular Bobwhite is a favorite of game bird breeders, hunters and bird lovers alike. Just about everyone is familiar with male's call for which the species is named. These plump little birds have the most widespread range of the American quail species, with over 15 supspecies ranging from Canada to southern Mexico. They have also been introduced abroad, to such places as Hawaii and New Zealand, as a game species. Commercial game bird farms raise thousands each year for release in the US and Canada.

The northern races consist of the Eastern Bobwhite (C. v. viriginanus), found throughout most of the eastern half of the US; Florida Bobwhite (C. v. floridanus) occurs only in Florida; Taylor's Bobwhite (C. v. taylori), occurs in the central US, from South Dakota to northern Texas; Texas Bobwhite (C. v. texanus), found in southwest Texas and northern Mexico; Cuban Bobwhite (C. v. cubanensis.

Scientific Information

Other Names:

Subspecies: There are twenty-one recognized subspecies in 3 groups. 1 subspecies is extinct.

Eastern Group C. v. aridus (Lawrence, 1853) - Jaumave bobwhite - west-central Tamaulipas to southeastern San Luis Potosi
C. v. cubanensis (GR Gray, 1846) - Cuban bobwhite - Cuba and the Isle of Pines
C. v. floridanus (Coues, 1872) - Florida bobwhite - peninsular Florida
C. v. insulanus (Howe, 1904) - Key West bobwhite - Florida Keys
C. v. maculatus (Nelson, 1899) - spot-bellied bobwhite - central Tamaulipas to northern Veracruz and southeastern San Luis Potosi
C. v. marilandicus (Linnaeus, 1758) - coastal New England to Pennsylvania and central Virginia
C. v. mexicanus (Linnaeus, 1766) - eastern United States west of Atlantic Seaboard to Great Plains
C. v. taylori (Lincoln, 1915) - plains bobwhite - South Dakota to northern Texas, western Missouri and northwest Arkansas
C. v. texanus (Lawrence, 1853) - Texas bobwhite - southwest Texas to northern Mexico
C. v. virginianus (Linnaeus, 1758) - nominate - Atlantic coast from Virginia to northern Florida and southeast Alabama

Grayson's Group C. v. graysoni (Lawrence, 1867) - Grayson's bobwhite - west central Mexico
C. v. nigripectus (Nelson, 2015) - puebla bobwhite - eastern Mexico

Black-breasted Group C. v. godmani (Nelson, 1897) - Godman's bobwhite - eastern slopes and mountains of central Veracruz
C. v. minor (Nelson, 1901) - least bobwhite - northeast Chiapas and Tabasco
C. v. pectoralis (Gould, 1883) - black-breasted bobwhite - eastern slopes and mountains of central Veracruz
C. v. thayeri (Bangs and Peters, 1928) - Thayer's bobwhite - northeast Oaxaca

Masked Group C. v. atriceps (Ogilvie-Grant, 1893) - black-headed bobwhite - interior of western Oaxaca
C. v. coyolcos (Statius Muller, 1776) - Coyolcos bobwhite - Pacific Coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas
C. v. harrisoni (Orr and Webster, 1968) - southwest Oaxaca
C. v. insignis (Nelson, 1897) - Guatemalan bobwhite - Guatemala and southern Chiapas
C. v. ridgwayi (Brewster, 1885) - masked bobwhite - north central Sonora
C. v. salvini (Nelson, 1897) - Salvin's bobwhite - coastal and southern Chiapas

Range: Geographic variation is greater as you travel further south. The Masked Bobwhite (C. v. ridgwayi), is an endangered race that is found in southeastern Arizona. These birds are similar to the eastern race, but males have a very dark face & throat. Compared to the other southern races, the Masked Bobwhite is fairly well represented in captivity.

The Rufous-bellied Bobwhites occur over much of central and eastern Mexico. Seven races make up this group - C. v. maculatus, C. v. aridus, C. v. graysoni, C. v. nigripectus, C. v. pectoralis, C. n. godmani and C. v. minor. The males of this group share the same white facial markings as the northern races, but darker on the throat and the belly relatively unmarked rufous-brown.

The southernmost group consists of the Black-headed Bobwhites, which are found in extreme southern Mexico into Guatemala. The races of C. n. atriceps, C. v. thayeri, C. v. harrisoni, C. v. coyolcos, C. v. salvini and C. v. insignis are similar to C. v. ridgwayi, but the black is more extensive and extends over the breast.

It is a shame that some of these races have yet make their way to our aviaries, as they are beautiful birds. Perhaps in the future, some may make their way and become established in captivity.

Habitat: They are found in a variety of habitats, from open woodlands & fields to suburban parks. Those with bird feeders in their yards are sometimes greeted a few quail who come to feed on the seed that is dropped by the other birds.They form large groups during the winter called coveys. These coveys can consist of up to 30 or more birds and when disturbed, all will burst into flight at once. It is probably certain that the majority of our captive Bobwhites are a combination of one or more of the above races.

Status in Wild:

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Photo Credits
(l to r): 1, Myles Lamont; 2-3, Dan Cowell; 4, Jim Riddle; 5-7, Kenneth Bader.


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