The Northern bobwhite quail has declined in Missouri since the mid-1950s, by more than 70 percent in the last 30 years. The long-term decline resulted from changes in land management. The landscape has changed from a patchwork of small farms with small fields, brushy areas and open woodlands to fewer, larger farms with larger fields, clean fencerows and dense forests. Other factors leading to declining habitat quality are the increased use of densely growing cool-season pasture grasses and the chemical control of insect and plant pests.
Quail need patchy habitats with a mix of bare ground and more dense cover, along with seed-bearing plants and insects. They must have suitable areas for nest sites and brood-rearing and cover to protect the birds from predators. Without suitable habitat available, the quail’s plight is made worse by extended periods of winter ice and snow. Unusually wet periods during spring and early summer, such as we had last year, also take a toll on young quail chicks.
Quail nesting in Missouri should be in full swing right now. After a 23-day incubation period for the eggs, young quail will be hatching later in May. The newly hatched chicks can easily succumb to exposure from frequent rains and cool temperatures. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some warm and drier conditions during late May and June. We’ll need good habitat and a little luck with the weather to see good numbers of quail chicks fledged this year.
Today there are multiple efforts underway to reverse the long decline in the quail population. Quail respond well to certain habitat management practices. These practices are increasingly being implemented on public and private property in Missouri. “Habitat is the Key” is the slogan for the growing body of information on restoring quail populations. What we do to improve quail populations will, at the same time, help a host of other ground-nesting Missouri birds that share the same needs as quail.