Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the November 23, 2014 Newsletter issued from Río Lagartos, on the north-central coast of Yucatán, MÉXICO

On a little one-lane, dirt road through the savanna south of town two bobwhites ran along in front of us looking as if they'd rather do anything than take flight. We stopped, one turned sideways to give us the eye, and I snapped the picture seen below:


If you have Northern Bobwhites in your area, they probably look different from this one, having white throats instead of black, and underparts not nearly as "black-edged scaly looking" as this one. However, if you're familiar with the Northern Bobwhite's remarkable regional variations over its large distribution area -- including completely black-headed ones with dark chestnut underparts in southern Mexico on the Pacific Slope -- then you might think that our Yucatan birds are just an extreme variation of the Northern Bobwhite. In fact, some experts think that that might be the case. However, most field guides do separate our Yucatan birds from the Northern species, referring to them as Yucatan Bobwhites, COLINUS NIGROGULARIS.

I love being down in the savannas in the mornings when the bobwhites are calling, their "bob-WHITE!" calls as sincere and clear sounding as I remember them back in the Kentucky countryside long ago. It's especially gratifying to hear them here because at my previous bases in Mississippi and Texas they've pretty much disappeared, presumably the victims of invasive fire ants. A study by CB Dabbert and JM Mueller available on a Texas A&M website reports that in their study in Texas, 38% of all mortality to bobwhite chicks up to 21 days of age was attributable to fire-ant stings at hatching. Though we have stinging ants here, I don't think they're fire ants, and they certainly aren't as numerous as in the US's fire-ant infested areas.

The Yucatan Bobwhite's distribution is an odd one. It occurs in brushy woodlands, overgrown fields and beach scrub throughout the northern and central Yucatan Peninsula, then there's a disjunct population in Belize, and yet another disjunct group in Caribbean Honduras and Nicaragua.