A Covey of Bobwhite Quail
Scratching Around for Food
(bolded words in text indicate key words
The name of the bobwhite quail comes from the lovesick call of
the male bobwhite. Listen closely next time youre in the longleaf
pine forest for the whistle which says bob-white.
The bobwhite quail and the
longleaf pine ecosystem share a relationship of commensalism-a
relationship between two entities where one organism benefits and
yet the other is neither benefited nor harmed by the other. Bobwhite
quail depend on fire in the longleaf pine forest to maintain abundant
ground cover and clear the ground so they can scratch around for
This picture depicts male (white head) and female (brown head)
bobwhite using their feet to scratch around the soil looking for
seed (called scratch feeding").
Bobwhite quail generally feed heavily just before dark. The majority
of the adult bird's diet consists of vegetable matter. Of this vegetable
matter, the seeds of fire-dependent native beans (legumes) are highly
desired (especially during the winter season when grass seeds have
spoiled). The reverse is true of birds two weeks old and younger.
To help young birds grow quickly, their diet is comprised mainly
of protein-rich insects. Fire helps maintain bugging
areas where young chicks feed on insects.
Fire creates early successional habitat
that is vital for quail. Without frequent fires in the longleaf
pine forest, dead organic debris (called duff)
would quickly accumulate making the search for food difficult. Frequent
fires also stimulate the production of lush bunchgrasses that assist
in evasion of predators.
By autumn of each year, bobwhites form loose groupings called coveys.
Coveys are generally made up to 9 to 14 birds. Coveying allows quail
to transfer information about food and cover resources to covey
members, i.e., safety in numbers. This lessens the likelihood of
predation on individual birds
by snakes, hawks, bobcats, etc.
Quail remain in coveys, feeding and roosting as a unit, throughout
winter. Early daylight hours are typically spent feeding. Mid-day
is reserved for resting, preening, and dust bathing. In late afternoon,
coveys feed again before forming the covey circle on the ground
to roost at dusk.
By about mid-April conveys begin to break up. The early stages
of covey break-up coincide with the time males (or cocks) start
whistling their characteristic bobwhite notes.
At the turn of the twentieth century and during the Great Depression
era, large blocks of land in south Georgia, central Alabama and
areas of the Carolinas, were purchased by wealthy industrialists
who wanted to establish areas where they could hunt quail. Today
these quail hunting plantations
represent some of the best remaining representations of longleaf
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): bobwhite