Northern Bobwhite

Colinus virginianus
Range Map: Note the population voids in the metropolitan areas.

The Northern Bobwhites are familiar birds in the eastern USA, and are found from southern New England west through the Great Lakes into Nebraska, and all lands south into southern Mexico. A population used to live in Arizona, and while efforts to re-establish this group have been made, they are rarely seen there anymore.

When conditions are good, Bobwhites may raise three broods in a season, which can be up to 25 chicks. Yet despite this rate of procreation, habitat loss has resulted in a diminishing population, with declines estimated at 85% from 1966 to 2014.

Science has divided these well-studied birds into 22 subspecies, some were once considered as separate species:

  • C. v. marilandicus lives in the northeastern USA from Maine south to Virginia and west to Pennsylvania.
  • C. v. virginianus lives in the eastern USA from Virginia south to northern Florida and west to Alabama.
  • C. v. floridanus lives in Florida, including the Florida Keys.
  • C. v. cubanensis lives in Cuba and the Isle of Pines.
  • C. v. mexicanus lives in southeastern Ontario (Canada) and central USA from South Dakota to New York, south to eastern Texas, Alabama and western South Carolina.
  • C. v. taylori lives in central USA from South Dakota to northern Texas and east to Missouri and Arkansas.
  • C. v. texanus lives in southwestern Texas and northeastern Mexico.
  • C. v. aridus lives in northeastern Mexico.
  • C. v. maculatus lives in northeastern Mexico.
  • C. v. graysoni lives in central Mexico.
  • C. v. nigripectus lives in south-central Mexico.
  • C. v. pectoralis lives in the highlands of eastern Mexico.
  • C. v. godmani lives in the lowlands of eastern Mexico.
  • C. v. minor lives in Chiapas in southern Mexico (possibly extirpated).
  • C. v. thayeri lives in northern Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
  • C. v. ridgwayi lives in northern Mexico, and has been reintroduced, with limited success, to southeastern Arizona.
  • C. v. atriceps lives in western Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.
  • C. v. harrisoni lives in southwestern Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.
  • C. v. coyoleos lives on the coast of eastern Oaxaca and western Chiapas, in southern Mexico.
  • C. v. salvini lives on the coast of southern Chiapas (Mexico).
  • C. v. insignis lives in southern Chiapas (Mexico) and adjacent western Guatemala.

I’ve heard Northern Bobwhites more often than I’ve seen them. I had one very rewarding encounter in Port Isabel (Texas), as I was leaving town and headed back to my camp in Brownsville. I stopped to photograph a Tropical Kingbird at a wide grassy location near the road. The kingbird posed well enough for satisfactory portraits to make the stop worthwhile. As I was working on the kingbird, I noticed the quail emerge from the brush at the far side of the grass field, and begin slowly foraging in a direction perpendicular to my position. I backed up my RV into a spot that I hoped would be in line with their path. It worked out perfectly! By the time the covey reached me, I’d been set up and waiting for several minutes. They crested a rise right in front of me and posed while I gathered images. As one might imagine, it was the highlight of my day.

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