Scientific Name: Colinus virginianus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2013
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Image of Northern Bobwhite
The Northern Bobwhite, a reddish terrestrial bird with a short dark tail, resembles a grouse or a small ruffed grouse. The male can be distinguished by its thin black necklace, white throat and white eye stripe. In the female, the buff-coloured throat and eye stripe are less conspicuous. In the spring, the male's loud “Bob-White” call makes his presence known and makes him quite easy to find.
Distribution and Population
In the United States, the Northern Bobwhite is found from southeastern Wyoming, east to Massachusetts, and south through eastern Mexico to western Guatemala. In Canada, it has only been observed in southern Ontario, where natural populations appear to be limited to Walpole Island and perhaps the adjacent mainland. Birds bred in captivity have been released in various locations in southern British Columbia and Quebec in an unsuccessful attempt to establish populations. Some birds observed in southwestern Ontario are considered to be wild specimens, although they are likely the result of interbreeding with released birds. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the early 19th century, there was a small population of wild Northern Bobwhite birds in southwestern Ontario. This wild population underwent an expansion following the gradual deforestation caused by the settlers. The population peaked in the mid-19th century, after which the size of both the population and the range began a gradual decline. Throughout the major part of the 20th century, attempts were made to re-establish declining Northern Bobwhite populations by releasing pen-reared birds. However, given the extremely high mortality rate of pen-reared birds, they were recently deemed unsuitable for restocking. Three harsh winters in a row in the late 1970s led to a further reduction of the population. The total population decline over the past 30 years is estimated to be 99.9%. At this time, there is only one sustainable, natural population in Canada, which is located on Walpole Island in Ontario and consists of 200 to 250 birds. This species has undergone similar declines in the United States.
The Northern Bobwhite requires open habitats that provide a mixture of grasslands, croplands and brush. In Ontario, this species is more common to cropland than to natural grasslands. In the summertime, it requires grasslands to build nests, feed, and rest. From summer to fall, it requires croplands for feeding, dusting, resting and roosting. Finally, it requires dense brush for shelter and rest throughout the year, and for feeding during fall and winter. Moreover, the mere presence of these three habitat types is not sufficient; they must be sufficiently interspersed to ensure that each is in close proximity to the others.
This is a monogamous species. Both the male and the female are involved in the selection of the nest site, nest building, incubation and care of the young. The Northern Bobwhite builds its nest in a shallow natural depression lined with plant material, which it conceals with grasses and vines. The female will generally lay 12 to 16 eggs that she incubates for 23 or 24 days. Six or seven days after hatching, the down-covered nestlings begin to take flight. In Canada, the Northern Bobwhite generally raises a single brood per year. While nests containing eggs have been found from late May to mid-September, the chances of successful hatching or fledging decrease over time. On average, nestling mortality rates can be as high as 70%. Once fall arrives, approximately four birds out of five are juveniles. The species’ average annual survival rate is in the area of 20%. However, when only adult birds are taken into consideration, the survival rate jumps to approximately 70%. The Northern Bobwhite is a sedentary species and individuals rarely venture farther than a kilometre from the nest. However, some birds have been known to travel several kilometres in the fall, and movements of up to 40 kilometres have been recorded.
The loss of habitat to intensive agriculture and urbanization is the reason for the decline of the Northern Bobwhite in Canada. In addition, the release of bobwhites bred in captivity has likely had an impact on the disappearance of this species. Prior to the enactment of the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997, almost anyone could obtain and incubate Northern Bobwhite eggs, and then release the nestlings into the wild. Birds raised in captivity differ significantly from wild birds and they are probably poorly adapted to Canadian winters and habitats. Since several of the small populations found throughout the southern part of the province are the result of interbreeding between birds bred in captivity and wild birds, it is entirely possible that these repeated re-establishment attempts have weakened these populations. As long as there were suitable habitats for the Northern Bobwhite, hunting was not considered a cause of the decline of these populations. Moreover, hunting was prohibited once hunters realized the severity of the decline. Stray cats also seem to be a problem in the area. Finally, harsh winters characterized by a significant snow cover and prolonged cold temperatures have caused further decline of the remaining population. Since this is a sedentary species, we cannot expect individuals from United States populations to re-establish Canadian populations.
Federal ProtectionThe Northern Bobwhite is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
The Northern Bobwhite is protected under the terms of Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997. Although it is considered choice quarry throughout its North American range, it is illegal to hunt the Northern Bobwhite in southwestern Ontario. The Northern Bobwhite is also protected under the terms of the Ontario Endangered Species Act. This law states that “no person shall wilfully (a) kill, injure, interfere with or take or attempt to kill, injure, interfere with or take... or (b) destroy or interfere with or attempt to destroy or interfere with the habitat of any species of fauna or flora declared in the regulations to be threatened with extinction.”
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Recovery Progress and Activities
Summary of Recovery Activities There are currently no recovery activities specifically addressing the Northern Bobwhite, but it benefits from several ecosystem-level conservation programs such as the Carolinian Canada Species at Risk Outreach/Education program, which raises public awareness of species at risk in the Carolinian ecosystem; the Walpole Island Heritage Center interpretation program, which promotes the natural significant species and ecosystems on Walpole Island; and the Ontario Spring Garden Prairie ecosystem public outreach program delivered through the Ojibway Centre. URLs Ontario’s Biodiversity: Species at Risk:http://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/risk.php?doc_type=fact&lang=&id=110 Tallgrass Ontario:http://www.tallgrassontario.org/IndSpecies_NBobwhite.htm Canadian Wildlife Service: Ontario Regionwww.on.ec.gc.ca/wildlife/wildspace/life.cfm?ID=NOBO&Page=Image&Lang=e
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
11 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Orders (3 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Document Posting Plans (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004)2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Recovery Document Posting Plans
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