Widely distributed throughout the eastern United States and Mexico, the Northern Bobwhite is economically one of North America's most important game birds, especially in the southern and midwestern United States. Captive-reared bobwhites are important for commercial ventures that produce birds for food and release them for hunting. The Northern Bobwhite has played a major role in captive laboratory studies to test the physiological and behavioral effects of pesticides on wildlife and was the subject of the first modern systematic study (Stoddard 1931) of a wild animal's life history in relation to environmental and habitat factors that influence its abundance. Studies of relationships between bobwhite populations and applications of prescribed fire for their habitat management became a cornerstone of fire ecology research in the United States (Stoddard 1931, Leopold 1933).
This species has a high annual mortality rate, and hence rapid population turnover and a short life span. Its robust reproductive capability can compensate for these factors, however; when weather and habitat conditions permit, an adult pair can successfully produce 2 or more broods (¿25 offspring) during a single breeding season. In forest habitats this bird shows a clear preference for early successional vegetation created by disturbances from fire, agriculture, and timber-harvesting. In rangeland habitats, bobwhites exist in both early and later successional vegetation. The densest populations (2.2¿6.6 birds/ha) are found in stands of southern pine forests that are intensively managed as private plantations for bobwhite hunting, and in south Texas rangelands during and/or after several years of above-average rainfall. Except for parts of Texas, populations throughout most southeastern and midwestern states have been declining during the past 30 years.
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