Bringing Back Quail

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 8, 2010

One of the most troubling questions facing Missouri's wildlife biologists is the apparent disappearance of quail from the Show-Me State countryside. Roadside quail surveys conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation indicate the lowest numbers in recorded history, and the trend points downward each year.

So, where have all the quail gone?

The simple answer is that they simply don't exist. Missouri's breeding population of quail is now so small that annual production doesn't even bring population numbers back to where they were the previous year.

Needless to say, there are a lot of popular but unscientific theories circulating to explain the decline of quail. Some say there are too many predators, such as hawks, coyotes and owls, eating too many quail. Others say the weather has been too dry, too cold, too hot or too wet. Still others claim that too many hunters are putting excessive pressure on the birds. One theory even claims that quail are suffering because of the abundance of wild turkeys. Some of these factors may indeed affect quail populations to some degree, but there's no arguing that good habitat is the most important ingredient in quail production and survival. In Missouri, nearly 93 percent of the land is privately owned, which means 93 percent of all potential quail habitat is privately owned. Therefore, private land managers have the greatest influence over Missouri's quail populations.

Perhaps the best way to chart the course for the bobwhite's future in Missouri is to look to the past.

Many sportsmen who recall the phenomenal quail and rabbit hunting of the 1960s were actually reaping the later stages of the small game peak that occurred in the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the same hunters still hunt many of the same lands today, and they lament the fact that the quail and rabbits numbers aren't what they used to be. From their perspective, the habitat on these lands doesn't seem to have changed over the last 30 years, but obviously something must be different.

From a quail's perspective, things are definitely different.

For example, dense, woody draws that once supported a diversity of buckbrush, blackberries and other small trees and shrubs are now shaded by large trees without much vegetation in the understory. The pastures and hay fields that once included a variety of grasses, legumes and broadleaf plants now contain thick, dense stands of a single species of grass, often fescue. Though preferred by many land

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