“Just because the problem seems unsolvable doesn’t give us the right to give up”.
I can’t remember who wrote that but it sticks in my mind. And just like the people trying to find that one blight resistant American Chestnut tree, Bobwhite Quail lovers keep hoping that maybe someday one mating pair from pen-raised birds will survive and reproduce. We haven’t found the resistant chestnut tree nor have we had success with re-establishing Quail using pen raised birds…but it doesn’t stop us from trying.
5:15am…34 degrees…The air is thick with moisture and the moon lights my way down the path to the river. I carry a small cage with ten pen-raised Northern Bobwhites. The Indian Grass, Big Bluestem and other native grasses arch over my head. The mowed path crunches under my footsteps. Now on the bank of the river I set the carrier down then scatter some mixed bird seed around. The moon’s reflection is on the river. With a silent reverence for nature and faith in the process of life, I open the door to the crate, “Good luck my friends. May you have good health and prosper”, I tell them. I turn and walk away, the soft wind ruffles the seed heads of the native grasses. The riffles of the river fade.
The odds of survival for these birds is pretty close to zero but if just one pair survive the gauntlet of hawks, falcons, foxes, domestic cats and other predators through the winter, then just maybe they will reproduce. Ours didn’t make it last year.
Thanks to our friends in Middlebrook and Swoope we released 66 birds last night on five separate farms with good quail habitat.
Quail populations began their plummet in our Valley back in the late 70’s. Today the Northern Bobwhite is one of the Audubon Society’s “common birds” in decline, their population declining 80% since 1967. Why? We really don’t know. There are lots of theories. Many people and organizations are trying to find out like the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. My opinion – death by a thousand cuts.
- Domestic cats roam free….over 90 million of them, invasive and non-native.
- Tall fescue, with its poisonous endophyte dominates our grasslands; it is also invasive and non-native.
- Hedgerows and weedy odd areas continue to diminish.
- Mowed and manicured is the “look” everyone wants.
- No one traps anymore….so we have more egg predators like raccoons, skunks and opossums.
- There are no bounties on hawks anymore…..so we have more raptors.
I’m not blaming the natural predators; Quail have always rebounded from natural causes. In my opinion the three biggest threats to Quail are the un-natural causes – tall fescue and cats, and lack of habitat.
Habitat restoration is the best hope for Bobwhites. Click on this hot link for an excellent habitat appraisal guide.
Here’s what you can do:
Plant native prairie meadows and shrub thickets.
Suppress natural succession with fire and disturbance.
Leave some areas unmoved.
Plant food plots or leave some grain in the field.
Keep cats indoors! Domestic cats are probably the most invasive non-native mammal in North America.
Virginia , USDA , Virginia Working Landscapes , the Piedmont Environmental Council ,Valley Conservation Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation all have programs to help landowners establish habitat. Contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District or your local USDA office for assistance. You may also contact me, I will be glad help you.
I belong to the Izaak Walton League we have property in Churchville. We have created 8 acres of quail habitat, how would we introduce quail into our property, number and time of year to do so. Will farm raised quail survive in the wild. Our 8 acres are surrounded with timber, open fields, and the National Forest.
Frank, thanks for stopping in. We got our quail from Jim Pile at Cobble Hill Farm. They still have some left. Give him a call at 540-480-0917. Also, check out the habitat evaluation guide in the post. They are not likely to survive. But we keep trying.
Thanks for coordinating this effort. We are all grateful to you.
You do good work for conservation.
Under your encouragement I’ll relent and try another batch this year if Jim still has some. It’s sad to see them get picked off one at a time, but it’s still a delight to see them in the brush and imagine them wild, as of old. Last year a few of the ten released
at Wheatlands made it into April and I did hear one call — once — so it was worth the effort.
Yours for a cat-free environment,
Great post, Bobby! I especially enjoyed the 5.15 am paragraph.
As one of the people who took some pen raised quail last year, I would like to add a couple of comments of a personal nature. Although our quail did not make it through the year, some were around for 6 months, surviving a fairly hard period of snow and cold. The quiet, meditative moments I had just standing still and observing these beautiful creatures were priceless, particularly learning some of their many sounds and observing a male who was totally protective of his lady. The second comment I offer as a non-hunter in the midst of a hunting community. I have many hunting friends who care about restoration and conservation. Still, I am afraid that if we are successful in restoring quail to VA, full-scale hunting may resume and they could be endangered once again. As quail have lost so much of their habitat, would a temporary moratorium (bad choice of word!) on hunting them be even possible?
Carol, thanks for your comments and concern about hunting. I know many “former” Quail hunters here in the Valley and not a single one would dare shoot a Quail here because they are keenly aware of how desperate we are to increase their numbers. I wonder if they felt the same way back when there were so few deer we had to “re-introduce” them. Now look at them, we have to hunt them to keep their numbers down.
N.C. Wildlife Magazine has had several good articles on quail. They blame mowing of fence rows and roadsides as major habitat losses that could readily be remedied. When Peter and I moved to Silver lake Rd. (Dayton area) in 1988 and for some years thereafter, there were quail who would call from the neighboring brushy pasture. The last were heard about 1992, I think. When the recession was over, more houses were built, and the farm across the road acquired quite a stable of “barn cats” too. It is such a loss.
I think the emphasis needs to be on building/managing good early successional habitat for the many wild bird species and other creatures that need it. Pen-reared quail are for dog training only.
I have missed the call of the bobwhite and watching baby quail walking in a line behind their mamas for a long time. I found an internet website that gave instruction on hatching quail. It sounded as if you need a warm operating room at Duke to care for their physical requirements. Next I decided I would find quail to release (this is a hazy memory) but my cousin told me an absentee landlord couldn’t do that and besides I didn’t have enough land. I have about 300 acres in Halifax County,North Carolina. Enough chatter:
please tell me how I can support reviving the quail population. I will be moving to Occoquan, Va. in two weeks. I just looked to see that your posts are in 2013. I suppose what I’ve written is too out of date.
DeWitt, you are not too late. There is much you can do. I will email you.
I’m now at Westminster, close to Occoquan. Please email me about what I can do.
This blog post caught my eye because of the quail. You simply just rarely see them anymore along with pheasants as well. I spend a lot of time in the woods in all seasons, and it is a shame that we do not see more of these native birds such as the quail roaming around. My father always talks about how he could just walk out the front door and weave through the fields surrounding our house and always kick up a few pheasants but that is unheard of anymore. The population rise in coyotes, foxes and bobcats in my area in Pennsylvania have been killing a lot of turkeys, fawns, and pheasants and that is why we have started predator hunting in hopes that we may be able to save a few of these animals so they make it through the winter. Our neighbor had released a few quail on his land a few years back and it was amazing to hear the sound they made.
Kevin, thanks for sharing your stories. Very nice comments.