Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Northern Bobwhite

Many landowners on Maryland’s Eastern Shore lament the loss of Northern Bobwhite (quail) on their property. The fact that quail have been disappearing from their former habitats is nothing new, concerned citizens and wildlife biologists have been worried about this game bird’s future in Maryland for some time now. But all is not lost; with a little dedication and help from private landowners the negative population trend can be reversed. The Center for Environment & Society has teamed up with Tall Timbers Research Station to form The Northern Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative. One of the goals of the project is to form a regional network of private landowners who are interested in restoring the habitat necessary for Bobwhite to make a comeback.

Adult Male Northern Bobwhite. Photo by Bill Hubick.
Habitat loss is often cited as the leading cause of population declines for quail. In Maryland they have declined at a rate of 5.1% per year since 1966 and at an accelerated 7.3% per year since 1980 (Ellison 2010). Restoring quail will involve increasing habitat surrounding farm fields, including grasslands or overgrown fields, shrub-scrub, woodland edges and hedgerows between farm fields. Chino Farms in northern Queen Anne’s County is leading efforts in the area to provide the mix of ideal habitats that quail need. Creating and maintaining early successional habitat is a work in progress, but with persistent dedication, time and the guidance from Tall Timbers the farm is becoming a model and resource for other interested landowners.

A small part of the restored warm season grasslands on Chino Farm.
With the rapid advancements in modern farming technologies, the way we practice farming has changed a lot in just a short period of time. In the past quail could rely on fence rows, hedgerows and fallow fields, but with larger equipment came larger fields and these critical habitats were lost. Back then landowners and managers didn’t have to manage their properties specifically for quail, the farming practices simply were good for quail. Today’s quail live in a completely different environment.  Nowadays, land managers have to actively manage the land to support quail. Another goal of the Intiative is to bring together landowners to share experiences on what works and what doesn’t, everyone has ideas and input and sharing them with the group will benefit everyone involved.

This recently fledged Northern Bobwhite was caught in a mist net during daily banding operations in the restored grasslands on Chino. This individual along with 10 other birds from a family group were too small to band and were quickly released.
If you are interested in creating quail habitat or know someone who may be interested, please keep an eye out here or at the CES facebook page for more information about a quail forum this fall. The unmistakeable whistle call of the male Northern Bobwhite belongs in the rural landscape and with your help we can all work together to make sure they are around for generations to come.

Information can also be found here,

Thanks to Bill Hubick for allowing use of his photographs.

Dan Small is a field ecologist at the Chester River Field Research Station. Please visit our Facebook page or find additional information here

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