There is something about hearing that “BobWhite” whistle. It gets me every time. Maybe it’s because I know it’s a rare pleasure to hear it these days. The sound takes me back to my younger years, hunting wild birds with my Grandfather, unaware of how fortunate I was to have those experiences. These days, I’m grateful to know what it’s like to flush a wild covey. Most hunters younger than me (I was born in 1976) think it’s natural to have to kick up a “put and shoot” covey. Many things are blamed for the bird’s decline but in my opinion, habitat loss tops the list. There are a lot of great conservation efforts ongoing to help reestablish wild bird populations, but one of the greatest challenges for those interested is the expense. The good news is that there are some simple things that landowners can do to create a top-notch habitat that aren’t costly or complex.
Bobwhites depend on early successional habitat, such as (old fields and young, shrubby forests). Before you hop on the tractor, fire up a chainsaw or fill up a backpack sprayer, you need to have a good understanding of the species’ biology and habitat requirements. Bobwhite quail are a boom-and-bust species. They pair up in spring and summer but live in groups the rest of the year. They roost in rings on the ground and have an average life expectancy of only six to eight months.
More often than not, landowners have a great native seed-bank and just need to add a couple of habitat management practices to get things moving in the right direction. In other cases, they may be actively trying to manage for quail but need to tweak their approach.
“Bobs” need three types of interconnected cover: nesting, brooding and escape, and the primary reason for their decline is habitat loss and fragmentation. While the critters might be complex, managing their habitat doesn’t have to be — simple steps like mowing in March instead of October or leaving the edges of a crop field fallow can make your land usable for quail.
Many times, the landowner has a pretty good idea of what quail need, but he or she may not be the best at reading the land and seeing the opportunities. NRCS and other conservation partners, such as the South Carolina Bobwhite Quail Initiative http://www.dnr.sc.gov/quail/whatwedo.html, provide technical and financial assistance to landowners to help them recognize these opportunities.
Some of the practices that NRCS and partners are helping landowners implement include field borders, hedgerows, conservation cover, filter strips, prescribed burning, and establishing diminished pine species such as shortleaf and longleaf pine.
Managing for bobwhite benefits many other wildlife species, including songbirds, pollinators, rabbits, wild turkey, and deer. It may take a while for quail to respond to your efforts, but the impacts are immediate for these other species. Enjoy the “fringe benefits” of conservation work!
Remember if we each do a little, it adds up.
If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to contact your local USDA service center to learn about assistance available through Farm Bill conservation programs.
Another resource for you to check out is Bargain Basement Bobwhites: An Affordable DIY Approach to Managing Land for Wild Bobwhite Quail.