Birds of the World – Bob White

Undoubtedly the most abundantly distributed and generally well-known American game bird is the Bob-white, the typical form of which is widely dispersed over the United States east of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, from the Gulf States to southern New England, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Texas, and is said to be gradually extending its range toward the west. It has also been introduced in many places, notably in the vicinity of Denver, Colorado, where I have heard them calling as familiarly as in their eastern home. It is also abundant as an introduced bird in the Great Salt Lake Valley of Utah, near Boise City, Idaho, the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and various islands in Puget Sound and other places, taking kindly to new surroundings provided climate and food are congenial. The genus (Colinus) to which the Bob-white belongs, with its fifteen or more species and subspecies, enjoys a practically unbroken continuity of range, in addition to that above outlined, from Florida along the Gulf States to the Rio Grande, and thence south through eastern Mexico to Tabasco and over the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to and down the Pacific coast to the borders of Guatemala. A large series of specimens obtained throughout this range seems to show that many of the forms are only subspecies of the common Bob-white of the eastern United States, merging by gradual changes from one to another, but the evidence is somewhat conflicting on several points and must await further elucidation. In any event they are Bob-whites and have practically the same familiar whistled call throughout.

The Bob-white par excellence (Colinas virginianus), or Partridge, as it is commonly called in the South, is a bird with the lower breast and abdomen white or buff, barred with black, while in the male the throat and band over the eye are white, and a crown together with a band from beneath the bill to the eye, and a band on the upper breast are black. Bob-whites are sociable birds, although never going in very large flocks, and may be heard calling in low tones to each other. They prefer rather open country, such as fields and pastures where there are small bodies of woodland, brush and brier patches and rank-growing vegetation. Naturally they are quite tame and unsuspicious, but the continual warfare of gunners has made them cautious. They cling closely to cover, from which it is difficult to flush them without the services of a trained dog, although they fly strongly when once up. If unmolested, they go about in family parties, wandering but little from their birthplace until spring, when they break up into pairs and begin the duties of rearing the young. The male is fearless at this season and may be heard whistling the familiar “Bob-white,” ” Ah, Bob-white,” from a fence post or other point of vantage, while the female is shy and but little in evidence. The nest is a simple affair, placed on the ground in a tussock of grass, a brier patch, or in a field or garden, and is usually provided with a natural archway of vines or other vegetation, but occasionally an artificial dome is constructed over it. In the northern part of the range, where they rear but a single brood, the clutch of eggs may number twenty-five or thirty; but in the South, where they raise two or even three broods, the number does not usually exceed fifteen. The male apparently takes little part in incubating the eggs, although he assists in caring for the young, taking full charge of the first brood while the female is hatching the second. They feed on grain of various kinds, seeds, berries, wild grapes, and insects, and in the fall often eat acorns, beechnuts, etc. In Florida there is a smaller, darker race, the Florida Bob-white (C. v. fioridanus), which is common throughout the pine-covered areas; and in Texas and northeastern Mexico occurs another race (C. v. texanus) that is more olive-grayish above and has usually a distinct band of pale cinnamon across the chest below the black band. To quite a distinct group apparently belong certain Mexican and Central American forms, in which the lower parts are uniform cinnamon or cinnamon-rufous. Thus in Grayson’s Bob-white (C. graysoni) of southwestern Mexico, the throat and a stripe over the eye are white, while in the Masked Bob-white (C. ridgwayi) and others the throat is black, and the white superciliary stripe much reduced or obsolete.