A Roadmap to More Quail
Missourians naturally associate quail with open lands and brushy draws, fence rows and crop field edges. However, these types of habitat are disappearing from the Missouri landscape. With them, we stand to lose a rich tradition that includes days afield, exciting flushes, hard-hunting dogs and delicious meals of quail.
Quail habitat in Missouri has decreased dramatically in past decades as cedars and honey locusts relentlessly invaded valuable open land. In addition, a diversified landscape is slowly being replaced by urban developments, larger crop fields and pastures dominated by fescue and brome. These choke out the forbs, legumes and bare ground necessary for quail survival.
Landscapes often change so slowly it's hard to notice differences. It's likely, however, that fence rows that held quail in your grandfather's day have grown from shrubby, connected islands with ample bare ground between 50- to 60-year-old pole-and-saw-log timber with a dense understory of fescue or brome. Over time, large parts of the landscape have become quail deserts.
Habitat that supports quail also sustains a variety of other birds. Many of these, including the Bell's vireo, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow's sparrow, loggerhead shrike, Bewick's wren, field sparrow and brown thrasher, also have experienced drastic population declines.
Fortunately, farmers and landowners are learning that they play an important role in restoring quail populations in Missouri. Landowners willing to devote 5 to 10 percent of their property to quail
management will often see an immediate response of higher quail numbers.
One influential group looking out for quail is the Southeast Quail Study Group (SEQSG). This partnership, formed in 1995, includes more than 100 wildlife professionals from state and federal agencies, universities and private organizations.
To address the conservation and management needs of northern bobwhite, the SEQSG developed the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. The NBCI is a landscape-scale habitat restoration plan, the first plan to address habitat needs of bobwhite throughout most of their historic range.
The goal of the NBCI is to increase quail density on improvable acres to that which existed in the 1980s. The plan is modeled on the successful North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the Partners in Flight program, and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. It's also designed to dovetail cooperatively with other existing bird management plans.
The NBCI has identified three general strategies that will help increase quail and associated songbird populations.
The first involves increasing the amount and improving the quality of agricultural lands for nesting, broodrearing and roosting by bobwhites and