Crested Bobwhite Colinus cristatus

  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Odontophoridae
  • Polytypic: 20 subspecies
  • Authors: Luis Sandoval


Geographic Variation

The Crested Bobwhite is highly variable geographically, with 20 currently recognized subspecies. These subspecies conventionally are divided into two groups (sometimes classified as separate species), the "Spot-bellied Bobwhite" group and the "Crested Bobwhite" group. There is significant geographic variation within each of these two groups as well.

"Spot-bellied Bobwhite" (leucopogon Group)

Six subspecies are recognized, in four subgroups, based mainly on differences in male plumage of the throat and breast; the females show little variation between the subspecies (Madge and McGowan 2002). Hypoleucos group: males have the throat, the center of the breast, and the belly (subspecies incanus and hypoleucos). Leucopogon group: males have a white throat, but the breast and belly are brown with white spots (leucopogon). Dickeyi group: males have a buffy cinnamon throat, and the breast and belly are brown with buffy cinnamon spots (subspecies dickeyi). Sclateri group: males have a brown to black throat, and the breast is brown with white spots (subspecies leylandi and sclateri).

"Crested Bobwhite" (cristatus Group)

Fourteen subspecies recognized (mariae, panamensis, decoratus, littoralis, cristatus, badius, leucotis, bogotensis, parvicristatus, horvathi, continentis, barnesi, mocquerysi and sonnini). The subspecies are based on the plumage of the males, but the differences between many subspecies is subtle and appears to be clinal (Madge and McGowan 2002). The females are very similar. Among the more distinctive subspecies (Madge and McGowan 2002) are: leucotis: the crest, sides of the face and throat are whitish; panamensis: the sides of the face and the upper throat are white, with a spotted breast; cristatus: the throat and supercilium are rufous, with a spotted breast; and sonnini: the throat is rufous.

Related Species

The systematics of this group has not yet been resolved. The AOU does not recognize the "Spot-bellied Bobwhite" (leucopogon Group) as a species, and includes it within the species cristatus (AOU 1983, 1998). The AOU did not explain the basis of its classification, but may have been influenced by Hellmayr and Conover (1942: 251), who suggested "the characters between these groups are merely differences of degree." On the other hand, authors who recognize the two groups as separate species (Stiles and Skutch 1989, Carroll 1994, Madge and McGowan 2002) note that the (male) plumage between adjacent populations of the two groups is very different. Furthermore, an analysis of variation in the song of both groups supports that idea that both groups should be treated as separate species, because the differences in song between the "Spot-bellied Bobwhite" and the "Crested Bobwhite" are greater than those found between the Northern Bobwhite (C. virginianus) and the Black-throated Bobwhite (C. nigrogularis) (Sandoval et al. in prep.), which are recognized as separate species (AOU 1983, 1998).

Recommended Citation

Sandoval, L. (2011). Crested Bobwhite (Colinus cristatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.