I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a northern bobwhite in the wild. There are several reasons for that; the biggest being that the bird’s population has declined sharply over the years. Another reason is that 99 percent of my birdwatching is done in New England and the bobwhite is more of a southern bird.
Despite all that I did come across a male northern bobwhite during a walk at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Connecticut, this morning (Dec. 12, 2018). It was walking along the path near a shrubby area and sauntered off into the brush as I continued along the trail. I walked several yards past the point where the bird had ducked into cover and I took a seat on the trail to see if the bird would come back out. Patience is a birdwatcher’s best tool, I reminded myself as I sat there motionless on this cold and sunny morning.
My patience was never tested as the bird did come back through the brush and onto the trail in a matter of minutes. It stopped and called a few notes (not its trademark “Bob-white” song, but its less distinctive call) as I watched from a short distance away. It sat there still and called a few more times. I didn’t hear any response calls, but there could have been another bobwhite around.
It’s hard to tell if this was truly a wild bird or a captive-bred bird that escaped or was released. Bobwhite is a popular game and farm bird. I didn’t notice any leg bands, so I’m hoping it was a bona fide wild bird. Either way, it was a treat to see it in New England.
The sighting became that much more meaningful after reading this northern bobwhite conservation update from The Audubon Society (audubon.org): “Has disappeared from much of the northern part of its range, and has declined seriously even in more southern areas. The causes for these declines are not well understood. At northern edge of range, many may be killed by unusually harsh winters, but this does not explain its widespread vanishing act.”