Species Profile

Northern Bobwhite

Scientific Name: Colinus virginianus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2013
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite Photo 1
Northern Bobwhite Photo 3



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. (Updated 2008/01/08)


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. (Updated 2008/01/08)  



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. (Updated 2008/01/08)



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. (Updated 2008/01/08)  



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. (Updated 2008/01/08)  



Federal Protection

The 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.” (Updated 2008/01/08)  

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


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

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Northern Bobwhite (2003)

    Designated Endangered in April 1994. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2003. Last assessment based on an update status report with an addendum.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Northern Bobwhite (2004)

    This species depends on native prairie and old meadow habitats that have largely disappeared from its southern Ontario range. Its population has declined drastically over the last 30 years and shows no sign of significant recovery. There is perhaps only one viable population in Canada, on Walpole Island, Ontario. The status of this species is complicated by the presence of many introduced populations which typically do not persist and whose genetic composition may pose a threat to native populations.
  • Response Statement - Northern Bobwhite (2013)

    Owing to habitat loss, this grassland bird’s population has declined dramatically over historical levels and shows no sign of recovery. There is only one viable population remaining in Canada, located on Walpole Island, Ontario. The status of this species is complicated by the presence of introduced pen-reared birds whose genetic composition is believed to pose a threat to the remaining native population.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2004)

    The Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    The Minister of the Environment is recommending, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), that 43 species be added to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. This recommendation is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, wildlife management boards, stakeholders and the Canadian public.
  • Order Extending the Time for the Assessment of the Status of Wildlife Species (2006)

    The time provided for the assessment of the status of the wildlife species set out in the schedule is extended for 3 years from the day on which section 14 of the Species at Risk Act comes into force.

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.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report – 2012-2013 (2013)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2012 to September 2013) from November 25 to November 30, 2012 and from April 28 to May 3, 2013. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 73 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 2 Endangered: 28 Threatened: 19 Special Concern: 19 Data Deficient: 4 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 73 Of the 73 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 50 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017