Photo by Ohio DNR
Scientific Name: Colinus virginianus
Abundance: Found throughout state
Species Profile (PDF)
Bobwhite quail and chicks (Photo by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission)
Most people know the Northern bobwhite by the name bobwhite quail, or just quail for short. Partridge is the old fashion name. Quail are related to turkeys and chickens, and to some people, they look like a small, plump chicken. They walk upright on short legs, with a pushed out chest. Males and females can be distinguished by the feather coloration on the head. The male has a white patch under his neck and a white line that runs above his eye. On the female, those feathers are light brown. The body feathers of both sexes are a beautiful but subtle combination of brown and black and buff and white. Their coloring provides effective camouflage.
Quail live on the ground, both day and night. At night, they hide under weeds and bushes. By day, they walk about, pecking for seeds and fruit and insects. When danger approaches, such as a fox or snake, they freeze in place and let the predator pass, or they try to out-run it; but if need be, they leap into flight.
Wing beats are fast, furious, and loud—a quail unexpectedly taking flight from under foot is startling. An average flight lasts 5 seconds and covers 150 feet, after which the bird returns to ground. Bobwhites do best in weedy fields and meadows, clear cuts and open woods dense with native grasses. They do poorly in towns, in dense forests, and in cattle pastures planted with fescue, Bermuda, or bahia grass.
Quail nest 1-3 times per summer, laying on average 12-14 eggs per clutch. Nests are hidden under weeds or grass clumps. The hen may incubate the eggs herself and raise the young, but this job may also be done by the male; in which case, the female is free to find another male for a new nest. Incubation lasts 23 days. Hatchlings weigh ¼ ounce, yet they are able to walk and follow their parent within an hour of hatching. They look like walking, downy fuzz balls. They first fly when 2 weeks old and reach adult size in 3–4 months. During the breeding season, quail live alone or with their chicks. But once breeding is over, generally by September, quail unite into small flocks with 3-20 members. Flocks are called “coveys." Membership in the covey is not fixed and some individuals move from covey to covey. A covey roosts at night with members in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, facing outwards towards danger. Coveys com-municate with other coveys using a spe-cial whistle call. The
covey call is given at about 15 minutes before daylight.
Learn more by reading the Northern Bobwhite Quail species profile.
The Northern Bobwhite Quail is a game species.
2016-2020 Quail Hunting and Harvest Estimate Maps
1949-2019 Quail Harvest and Hunter Trends
There are nine species of resident small game in North Carolina including, three species of rabbits (Eastern cottontail, Appalachian cottontail, and marsh rabbit), three squirrels (fox, red and gray squirrels) and three birds (quail, grouse and pheasants). Many differences exist between the species including their distributions, abundances, and future conservation challenges. Information about other types of small game species, including woodcock, doves, groundhogs, etc., can be found in other parts of this website.
Habitat changes over the past 40-50 years have presented the greatest challenge to management, and for the most part, have been detrimental to small game. Conservation challenges include urban growth, habitat fragmentation, exotic plants and insects, incompatible farming and forestry practices, and unchecked forest succession. Currently, undisturbed maturing forest conditions are beneficial for most squirrel species. However, habitats are deteriorating for bobwhite quail and grouse which are dependent upon early successional conditions. Remnant populations of pheasants, a non-native gamebird, also continue to decline on the Outer Banks where larger populations once existed.
In situations where habitat is created for these species, small game populations are often quick to respond due to their high reproductive rates and ability to colonize new areas. To address recent declines of these species dependent on early successional habitat, the Wildlife Resource commission has developed programs such as the CURE (Cooperative Upland Habitat Restoration and Enhancement) program.
Many people hunt small game species in North Carolina. Each year approximately 150,000 sportsmen/ sportswomen take more than 1.0 million trips afield in pursuit of resident small game species. Based on a survey of hunters during a recent hunting season, it was estimated that hunters harvested approximately 8,750 grouse, 230,000 quail, 382,500 rabbits, and 482,000 squirrels in North Carolina.
Northern Bobwhite Quail species profile (PDF)
Sandy Mush Game Land Birding Check List (PDF)
Green River Game Land Birding Check List (PDF)
Attention Avid Bird Hunters! The Wildlife Commission needs your help tracking wildlife by filling out quail and grouse surveys. Learn more!