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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Northern Bobwhite -- Colinus virginianus
(formerly Bobwhite)

RANGE: Resident from southeastern Wyoming and central South Dakota to southern Ontario, southern New Hampshire and southern Maine, south through the central and eastern United States to Florida and southern Arizona into Mexico; introduced and established in western North America.

STATUS: Often common to abundant. Masked bobwhite extirpated in southern Arizona but is being reintroduced.

HABITAT: Inhabits open pastures, meadows with abundant weedy growth, and cultivated or fallow agricultural lands with hedgerows and dense brush, near open woodlands; avoids deep woods. In the Southwest, found in brushy canyons and hillsides or on dry grasslands with scattered mesquite and cactus. Prefers to winter in coveys (within several miles of breeding areas) in areas where dense cover of brushy thickets, hedgerows, or brush piles provide protection and abundant food resources.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open woodlands adjacent to fields and brushy cover. In winter, brushy cover within 150 feet of feeding areas.

NEST: Builds a well-concealed nest on dry ground, usually in a moderately dense stand of herbaceous and grassy vegetation such as goldenrods, panic grasses, cheatgrass, broom sedge, and bluegrass, with scattered shrubs and briars, and patches of bare ground. Prefers areas where standing vegetation is usually less than 20 inches high and upright stems are separate enough for the birds to pass between.

FOOD: Consumes seeds, fruits, buds, and other plant parts that contribute 95 percent of the diet in winter and 70 percent in summer. Eats primarily green plant leaves in spring. Also eats insects that account for the remaining diet.

REFERENCES: DeGraff et al. 1980, Klimstra and Roseberry 1975, Reid and Goodrum 1979, Robel 1969, Rosene 1969, Tate and Tate 1982, Terres 1980.

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