The northern bobwhite quail is a popular gamebird with a storied history in Missouri. Prior to the comeback of deer and turkey populations, quail hunting was one of the premier outdoor activities in the state. Still a popular event for some hunters, Missouri’s quail season runs from November 1 through January 15.
Species: Northern bobwhite quail
Scientific name: Colinus virgianus
Claim to fame: The northern bobwhite quail is a popular gamebird with a storied history in Missouri. Prior to the comeback of deer and turkey populations, quail hunting was one of the premier outdoor activities in the state. Still a popular event for some hunters, Missouri’s quail season runs from November 1 through January 15.
Species status: Missouri’s quail population continues isn’t thriving like it once was, but there is hope. Changes in farming practices and the disappearance of some of the native grasses are thought to have heavily influenced this decline.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the northern bobwhite was written by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. In 1530, the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto received a gift of “partridges and wild turkeys” from Indians in Georgia. It’s presumed the partridges were quail.
Family matters: Northern bobwhite quail belong to the bird family Odontiforidae, a collection of species commonly referred to as the New World quails. Although the terms “bobwhite” and “quail” are used interchangeably by virtually everyone, there are differences between quail in Missouri and varieties of this bird seen in some other parts of the continent. The northern bobwhite quail found across much of the central and eastern U.S. is one of several bobwhite species that comprise the genus Colinus, one of several genera of quail in North America.
Length: Approximately 10 inches
Diet: Quail eat green plants and insects in season; but rely mainly on fruits and seeds. Waste grains left over from crop harvests also provide food.
Weight: Five to seven ounces
Distinguishing characteristics: This chunky bird has brownish body feathers flecked with white and black. It has a white throat and a distinctive dark streak stretching back from its beak along its eye and down the side of its neck. One of the northern bobwhite’s most familiar traits is its “bob-white” call. This is the mating call of male birds.
Life span: In the wild, Northern bobwhites seldom live beyond one year.
Habitat: Bobwhite quail prefer an edge-type habitat that contains several components. The main elements are thick stands of native plants, mixed with patches of woody cover (usually in the form of brushy draws or shrubby, overgrown fence rows) and small areas that have seen some type of soil disturbance (disking, plowing, etc.) These elements combine to form a mosaic-type habitat; each part being vital to the quail at particular stages in their annual life cycle.
Life cycle: In Missouri, northern bobwhite quail nest from April into the fall and often raise more than one brood. They nest on the ground and the average clutch is 10 to 12 eggs. The eggs hatch in 23-24 days. Quail form coveys from fall through winter when food is most plentiful. By early spring, coveys disband as selection of nesting sites begins.