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Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's rare vertebrate animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist
For information on Wisconsin's rare invertebrates, contact:
Jay Watson
Conservation Biologist

Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)



Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), a species of Special Concern in Wisconsin, is a medium-sized quail, with a small head and round body covered by reddish-brown plumage that is spotted with many white patches on its breast. Its head is white with a black crown and eye stripe stretching to its nape. The Northern Bobwhite prefers a wide variety of vegetated habitats, particularly those at an early successional stage, like grasslands, hayfields, fallow fields, dry-mesic prairies, brushy forest edges and oak savanna. Females will lay, on average, 12-14 eggs in nests on the ground that are lined with grasses and other dead vegetation. Incubation is by one or both sexes, for an average of 23 days. The Northern Bobwhite has a very high mortality rate due to low survival during severe winter weather conditions. Most individuals live less than one year, with adult females suffering from higher mortality than males. Loss of nesting and brood-rearing cover is also a limiting factor for this species. The recommended avoidance period is May 1 - July 31.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Colinus virginianus in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusSC/M
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1B
Global RankG4G5
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

A guidance document is not available at this time. However, the bird calendar [PDF] contains dates for avoiding impacts to this and other rare Wisconsin birds when planning management activities.



Northern Bobwhite

Formerly widespread and abundant in much of the SE Glacial Plains, the Northern Bobwhite is now uncommon and local.

Photo © Jack Bartholmai.

Northern Bobwhite

Photo © Ryan Brady.

Northern Bobwhite

Photo © Ryan Brady.

Wildlife Action Plan

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Northern Bobwhite. Only natural communities for which Northern Bobwhite is "high" (score=3) or "moderate" (score=2) associated are shown. See the key to association scores for complete definitions. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Northern Bobwhite. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Northern Bobwhite occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Issues/threats and conservation actions

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for rare animals

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Last revised: Thursday, October 08, 2020