Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Bobwhite Quail
Nature Bulletin No. 232-A   May 28, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

THE BOBWHITE QUAIL
While plowing on a May morning many years ago, my father saw a crow, passing overhead, drop something white from its beak. Before the crow could retrieve it, he shouted and ran to pick up -- an egg, unbroken on the soft newly turned soil. Suspecting that it was a quail's egg, he wrapped it in his handkerchief and, at noon, had mother place it with the incubating eggs under a "setting" hen. A few days later, out popped a damp chick scarcely larger than a bumblebee. Within a few hours its downy feathers had fluffed out into fine brown fuzz, with a dark streak down its back, and it was scampering about in a shoe box in the warm kitchen. Fed bits of egg yolk, meal, live crickets and flies, that baby quail soon became very tame and would creep inside the cuff of a sleeve or nestle under a cupped hand. After a week or two it had well- developed wing feathers and was trying to fly.

The Bobwhite, known in the south as the "partridge", is one of several species of American quail. It is a chunky ruddy-colored bird, a little larger than a meadow lark. The cock has a conspicuous white throat and a white stripe over the eye. In the hen these parts are buffy. The tail is short and dark, and the light-colored breast is flecked with dark bars. They squat motionless and almost invisible, until a person is very close. When they "flush", with a startling explosive whir, they fly some distance at high speed with fast-beating wings and then coast or "scale" with the wings curved sharply outward.

Throughout spring and summer the male may be heard, morning and evening, calling from a perch on a fallen log, a fence post, or occasionally a low tree -- a clearly whistled "Bob-White!" or "Poor- Bob-Whoit!", with the last note loud and ringing. The "covey call", a shrill "ka-loi-kee?", is used to call the members of a family together. This is answered by a lower-pitched "whoil-kee" which can be imitated to bring quail within a few yards of a quiet watcher.

In a field or near the edge of a woods, the mated pairs build a nest which is merely a shallow hollow in the ground, lined with dead grass and leaves, open to the sky or under a tuft of grass. In it she lays from 7 to as many as 28 pure-white oval eggs about an inch in diameter. Although she leaves the nest on warm afternoons to feed and exercise, the male also brings insects and other food to her. If something happens to the hen at this time, the cock has been known to hatch the eggs and raise the young. During the day, the family devours enormous quantities of insects and some wild seeds and berries. At night they sleep on the ground in a circle, with all heads pointed outward to watch for enemies. If a feeding family is disturbed, the parents give a low warning note and the well-camouflaged babies "freeze" to become almost invisible. The parents then pretend to be crippled and try to lure the enemy away by fluttering over the ground, just out of reach.

As the young mature, the diet changes until in fall, winter and spring it consists of a variety of wild fruits, weed seeds (especially the common ragweed), and waste grain gleaned from fields. Because of the great quantity of destructive insects eaten, such as the chinch bug, no bird is more beneficial to the farmer. In northern regions, many quail die during severe winters with deep crusted snows. Because quail nest, eat and sleep on the ground, they are prey for hawks, owls, crows, foxes, skunks, weasels, snakes, rats and roaming house cats. But their most deadly enemy is man, the hunter.

Ohio, alone, calls Bob White a song bird and allows no quail hunting.


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