Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus


Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Near Threatened because it has suffered moderately rapid declines in recent decades, mainly caused by habitat conversion and intensification of agriculture.

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number 5,800,000 mature individuals (Partners in Flight 2020).

Trend justification
The species has been undergoing a large and statistically significant decline over the past five decades in North America, at an average of -3.64% per year (Partners in Flight 2020). The rate of decline appears to have slowed down in recent years (Meehan et al. 2018; Pardieck et al. 2018). Over the past ten years, the population in North America declined by 22% (Pardieck et al. 2018).
There is no information on the rate of population change from other countries. However, as North America holds about 75% of the global population (Partners in Flight 2020), it is assumed that the trend observed in North America is representative for the entire population, and as such the species is estimated to have declined by 20-29% over the past ten years.

Distribution and population

Colinus virginianus is resident throughout east North America (from south Mexico and west Guatemala through the USA to extreme southern Canada) (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Brennan et al. 2020). Populations of subspecies cubanensis on Cuba and the Isla de la Juventud (Cuba) may be natural, but many introduced populations exist across the world (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Madge and McGowan 2002; Brennan et al. 2020).


The species inhabits early successional vegetation in a variety of habitats, created by disturbances from fire, agriculture and timber-harvesting (Brennan et al. 2020). It is often found in agricultural landscapes, grasslands, open forests and brush land (Brennan et al. 2020). It feeds principally on seeds, but insects form an important component of the diet in summer (del Hoyo et al. 1994). It forms coveys of 8-20 individuals occupying a home range of approximately 10 ha.


Habitat clearance may initially prove beneficial for the species and lead to population increases, but intensification of agriculture, herbicide use and the establishment of monoculture, high-density tree plantations can quickly revert these trends and cause rapid population declines (Brennan et al. 2020). A reduced frequency in prescribed fires has resulted in widespread habitat fragmentation, as the species requires disturbance to maintain open habitat (Brennan et al. 2020).The species is subject to high hunting pressure in the USA (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Its socio-economic importance as a game bird has resulted in range-wide population declines (Pardieck et al. 2018; Terhune et al. 2019); poor management of populations can result in declines.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Subspecies ridgwayi is on CITES Appendix I (del Hoyo et al. 1994). The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative coordinates habitat restoration programmes throughout most range states in the USA. Small-scale reintroduction and translocation of individuals have been carried out in recent decades to varying degrees of success (Terhune et al. 2010; Macaluso et al. 2017; Martin et al. 2017; Reyna and Newman 2018); translocated individuals have been shown reproduce and raise offspring with a survival rate similar to that of resident individuals (Lunsford et al. 2019). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out surveys to determine the trend of the native populations in Mexico and Cuba. Carry out field research and experiments to determine the optimal timing of prescribed fire for habitat management. Investigate how to mitigate potential additive effects of hunting mortality, e.g. via experiments that examine population productivity and recovery at various harvest regimes and densities. 
Maintain tree canopy cover at <50% to create open, parkland conditions. Burn 50-75% of understorey vegetation annually during late winter to early summer, in small, patchy mosaics. Seasonally apply vegetation disturbance (every 1-5 years) from prescribed fire and/or mechanical disturbances. Remove or reduce mammalian predators during nesting within the context of intensive habitat management. Consider introducing supplemental feeding regimes to increase winter survival rates (McLaughlin et al. 2019).


Text account compilers
Everest, J., Hermes, C.

Bird, J., Butcher, G., Harding, M., Rosenberg, K., Sharpe, C.J. & Wells, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Colinus virginianus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/06/2022.