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(For the week of March 29, 2010)
Bobwhite Quail
by James L. Cummins

The bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) is famous for its whistling of its name. During the spring and summer months, the “bob-bob-white” call rings loud and clear across prime quail country as lonesome males seek the company of a mate and proclaim their territory.

The bobwhite is a round-bodied small bird. Adult males measure between 9 and 10 inches in length, have a wingspan of 14 to 15 inches and weigh anywhere from 5 to 6 ounces. The most conspicuous markings found on the bobwhite quail are the throat patch and broad stripe above the eye, extending from the bill to the base of the neck.

The male bobwhite has a white throat patch and stripe, while the female's patch and stripe is a buff or pale yellow color. The bobwhite's breast, back, rump, wings and tail are reddish brown with black markings. The belly and flanks consist of white feathers with dark markings on the edges giving the belly a scaled appearance. The bird's bill, eyes, legs and feet are black.

The bobwhite has short, cupped wings that are well-designed for fast takeoffs and flying short distances. Bobwhite quail can reach their top speed of 50 mph almost immediately, but then must set their wings and glide to their destination.

Bobwhite quail prefer a diverse habitat which can be found in and around idle or fallow fields, open woodlands, old fields, crop fields such as corn, milo and soybeans with weedy growth and certain types of pastures. These areas provide food sources with suitable escape cover.

Approximately 80 percent to 85 percent of a bobwhite quail's diet consists of seeds, leaves, stems and flowers of ragweed, lespedeza, smartweed, corn, sorghum, bristle grass, wheat, small acorns, cowpeas, sunflowers and panic grasses. The remainder of their diet consists of animal matter such as insects, caterpillars, earthworms, snails and slugs.

Bobwhite quail are very prolific with clutch sizes of 12 to 15 eggs on average. The female will lay one egg per day until the clutch is completed. Incubation requires 23 days and once the chicks have hatched, both parents participate in raising them. After only 10 days the chicks are able to fly short distances and at the age of 3 weeks have fully-developed flight feathers.

Like other ground nesting birds, bobwhites face a constant danger of predation from raccoons, fox, snakes, skunk, bobcats, coyotes and house cats. The bobwhite's greatest enemy, however, is the change in land use (large fields, small fields growing-up in trees, etc.) leading to loss of habitat.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.