After a drought of 10 or more years, we have a covey of quail back on the grounds of the Conservation Department’s Central Office! I last saw quail on this property, near the front of the Runge Conservation Nature Center, at least a decade ago. Last week a couple of my coworkers reported seeing two quail on the trail system here. Today, there was a covey of eight to 10 birds near the front door of our building that later moved into various other areas on the grounds where they were more concealed in plant cover.
In a way, it’s not surprising that quail would be found on this property (about 150 acres) because we have done considerable management to make the area wildlife-friendly. There is plenty of water in several fish ponds and in shallow, marshy wetlands. Around food plots are areas of bare soil for dusting and brushy cover where birds can find refuge from predators such as foxes, hawks, bobcats and housecats. There are three prairie restoration sites where thick native grasses provide good nest sites for quail and other ground-nesting birds. In recent years, we have thinned timbered areas and used prescribed fire to create a semi-open landscape that is rich with seed-producing native plants. Invasive exotic species such as the shade-producing Japanese honeysuckle and shrub honeysuckle have been reduced in numbers. Old openings that had been overtaken by cedar thickets have been re-opened, allowing light to reach the ground and support more plant diversity. Plant diversity leads to insect diversity and to better conditions for wildlife that feed on insects and plant seeds and leaves.
On the other hand, our grounds are surrounded by residential and commercial development, highways and manicured lawns. It seems like we are almost an island of wildlife habitat in a mostly unaccommodating landscape. Other wildlife species have been seen here with some regularity, including many songbirds, deer, turkey, foxes and an occasional bobcat. To see quail again here is so gratifying and encouraging that habitat improvement pays off, even in suburbia. It is also a tribute to the ability of this native game bird to persevere and to seek out a place that can meet its needs.