Family New World Quails (Odontophoridae)

Near Threatened

Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)


French: Colin de Virginie German: Virginiawachtel Spanish: Colín de Virginia

Tetrao virginianus


, 1758,

America = South Carolina, USA


Sometimes considered conspecific with C. nigrogularis. Known to hybridize with Callipepla squamata in the wild#R. Several races have at times been considered full species, but, despite striking differences between taxa at the geographical extremes, no convincing definition of species boundaries has yet been made, perhaps in part owing to specimen diaspora; further research needed. Validity of race nelsoni questionable; sometimes included within insignis. Race cubanensis unstable, and may be based on introductions. Proposed race castaneus known only from type specimen (locality unknown), which is thought possibly to have been an erythristic individual. Proposed race †insulanus (Key West, in Florida, where now extinct), inseparable from floridanus. Subspecific name coyoleos usually amended to coyolcos, but former is the original spelling#R. Twenty-two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. v. marilandicus (Linnaeus, 1758) – NE USA from S Maine S to C Virginia and W to Pennsylvania.
  • C. v. virginianus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Eastern Bobwhite – E USA from Virginia S to N Florida and W to Alabama.
  • C. v. floridanus (Coues, 1872) – peninsular Florida (SE USA).
  • C. v. mexicanus (Linnaeus, 1766) – extreme S Canada (SE Ontario) and C USA from E South Dakota E to W New York, S to E Texas, Alabama and W South Carolina.
  • C. v. taylori Lincoln, 1915 – C USA from C South Dakota S to N Texas and E to W Missouri and NW Arkansas.
  • C. v. texanus (Lawrence, 1853) – S USA (SW Texas) and NE Mexico S to Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.
  • C. v. maculatus Nelson, 1899 – NE Mexico from C Tamaulipas S to N Veracruz and SE San Luis Potosí.
  • C. v. aridus Aldrich, 1942 – WC Tamaulipas to SE San Luis Potosí (NE Mexico).
  • C. v. graysoni (Lawrence, 1867) – Grayson's Bobwhite – C Mexico from SE Nayarit and S Jalisco E to SC San Luis Potosí, S Hidalgo and Morelos.
  • C. v. nigripectus Nelson, 1897 – SC Mexico in México, Morelos and Puebla.
  • C. v. cubanensis (G. R. Gray, 1846) – Cuba and I of Pines.
  • C. v. pectoralis (Gould, 1843) – Black-breasted Bobwhite – E slope of mountains of C Veracruz (E Mexico).
  • C. v. godmani Nelson, 1897 – lowlands of Veracruz (E Mexico).
  • C. v. minor Nelson, 1901 – NE Chiapas and adjacent Tabasco, in S Mexico.
  • C. v. atriceps (Ogilvie-Grant, 1893) – extreme W Oaxaca, in S Mexico.
  • C. v. thayeri Bangs & J.L. Peters, 1928 – NE Oaxaca (S Mexico).
  • C. v. ridgwayi Brewster, 1885 – NC Sonora (N Mexico); reintroduced, with limited success, to SE Arizona (SW USA), where extirpated in past.
  • C. v. harrisoni Orr & Webster, 1968 – SW Oaxaca, in S Mexico.
  • C. v. coyoleos (Statius Müller, 1776) – Masked Bobwhite – coast of E Oaxaca and W Chiapas, in S Mexico.
  • C. v. nelsoni Brodkorb, 1942 – extreme S Chiapas (Mexico).
  • C. v. salvini Nelson, 1897 – coast of S Chiapas (Mexico).
  • C. v. insignis Nelson, 1897 – SE Chiapas and W Guatemala (Huehuetenango).
  • Introduced to British Columbia (Canada), Hawaii, New Zealand (probably taylori), Croatia, France (apparently not self-sustaining)#R and Iberia, with singing birds recorded several times in UK#R#R#R; also (virginianus) to NW Italy; also (taylori) to Washington, Oregon and Idaho, in NW USA, and (mainly cubanensis) to Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Bahamas and other Caribbean islands; may have been introduced to I of Pines and Cuba, although this population usually awarded subspecific status (cubanensis, above).

    Descriptive notes

    20–28 cm. Size increases from S to N: average 129 g (Chiapas); 159 g (San Luis Potosí); male 155–222 g, female 164–222 g (SE USA); race ... read more


    Males and females give a loud whistled upslurred “bob-wheet!” call (hence its name bobwhite).... read more


    Varies with population; includes pine woodlands, woodland edge, shrubs, agricultural fields,... read more

    Food and feeding

    In Mexico, primarily seeds of sunflowers, foxtails, panic grass, thistles, and Desmodium; oak acorns, and cultivated frijoles,... read more


    Variable in USA, with peak in Apr–Jun, earlier in S, later in N; Apr–Jun in Mexico, where possibly later in Oaxaca, to coincide... read more


    Sedentary, except during autumn dispersal. Normally forms coveys: on average of 12 birds (8–... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. Has suffered moderately rapid and substantial declines in recent decades, becoming rarer in many traditional... read more

    Recommended citation

    Carroll, J.P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 5 December 2019).