Bob-white, unlike the majority of our birds, does not migrate southward in winter; the whole covey, unless they are killed, spend the whole year near the spot where they were born, feeding on the fallen grain, seeds, and various kinds of fruit. In hard winters, they become very tame, and if fed regularly, come to the barnyard almost like poultry. Most people are only too familiar with this bird, but not as he looks in life. Then he is full of energy and spirit; his pure white throat shows against the black of his head, and his rich reddish brown wings are ready to carry him off with a whirr that startles one. For one that we see alive, we see a thousand hanging, bloody and bedraggled, in the markets. Few people who become really acquainted with Bob-white, who see him sitting on a stone wall calling his name, or see his mate hurrying her little ones over the road into the blackberry vines, will care to make another meal off his little body. We must consider not only the wrong, if we acknowledge it to be one, done to the individual quail whose life has been taken, but the danger that threatens his whole race. The cheerful Bob-white is already a much rarer sound than it used to be, and the bird has many other dangers to contend against besides the pot-hunter's gun.
The greatest peril that besets quail in the North is the occasional midwinter blizzard, followed by intense cold. The quail at night huddle close together on the ground, their tails touching and their heads pointing out in a circle. After a great storm in a recent winter, melting snow exposed a circle of quail, surprised and buried by the snow, like the people of Pompeii buried under the falling ashes.
In May, the male begins to whistle the two or three clear notes which have been translated into "Bob-white," or "More wet." This call is not only a summons to the female, but also a challenge to other males; if one hides nearby and imitates the whistle accurately enough, a sudden flight will sometimes bring the angry bird directly to the spot. The surprise of the visitor is then amusing enough. Stone walls, fences, the low limbs of trees are favorite perches for the male, and his cheerful call has long been a familiar sound in farming country, from Massachusetts southward.
The nest is placed in some tangle of blackberry vines, along the edge of a field, and is a sight worth a long journey to see. The pure white eggs, often as many as fifteen, are laid close together in such a manner that the little body of the female may cover and warm them all. When the young are hatched, they are covered with down, and run at once, like chickens, and unlike the little blind naked young which we see in the nests of song birds. They follow their mother through the tangled grass or low bushes, feeding on fruit and insects, and later on the grain in the stubble fields. The whole family keep together, even when the young are able to care for themselves. When they hear any danger approaching, they keep close to the ground, relying on their brown coloring to conceal them. If the danger comes too near, they are off in half a dozen directions, over walls and bushes, coming quickly to earth again when they see some sheltering covert. Then, after an interval, one hears a note something like a guinea hen's, issuing from different parts of the field. Guided by these sounds, the whole covey reassemble.