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Take Heart - We Can Bring Quail Back

Nov 18, 2013

Amid years of doom and gloom predictions for the bobwhite quail, we can see a bright light on the horizon. That bright light got a little brighter this fall as the Department and our partner Quail Forever began an effort to inventory quail numbers on several of our private land Quail Focus Areas (QFAs) for the first time. We compare what we find in the focus area to a similar area outside the focus area that is not being managed for quail by the landowners. The Departments’ ten year quail plan focuses our attention on these QFAs, where staff efforts and cost-share dollars are enhanced. Many of our QFAs were developed with the introduction of the Department’s quail plan in 2004 and have received our concentrated attention ever since.

Up to now only two focus areas in the entire state were inventorying bird numbers each fall with help from Quail Forever volunteers and Department staff. This year we partnered with Quail Forever volunteers to survey 3 additional focus areas around the state. Preliminary results of our October quail covey counts are coming across my desk this week. The proof that our concentrated efforts are the key to quail recovery have never been more evident.

The Knox County Quail Focus Area has been surveying quail numbers inside and adjacent to the focus area for 5 years. With this long-term survey they witnessed a yearly increase in quail numbers in the focus area until Snowmageddon hit at the end of January, 2011. Leaving a deep layer of snow and ice on the ground through February of that year, quail numbers inside and outside the QFA drastically dropped that year. Fast forward to 2013 which saw a 21% increase in quail numbers inside the QFA yet there has been a continued long-term decline in quail numbers surveyed outside the focus geography. This year’s surveys showed 5 times more birds in the focus area than outside.

The Carroll County Quail Focus Area began its first bird surveys with a spring whistle count and is just concluding their fall covey call count. There are 6 times more coveys this fall in the QFA than in the nearby unmanaged survey area.

The Scott County Quail Focus Area had a problem finding an unmanaged geography to survey; which may be a good thing? There were enough habitat improvements through USDA and Department programs that even the geography chosen for a control had numerous native grass field borders. Yet the numbers within the managed focus area were still 30% higher than the control.

The Stoddard County Quail Focus Area saw a 31% increase in quail numbers over last year and no birds were found on farms that had been mowed late in the summer.

The Cass County Quail Focus Area was surveyed for the first time last month and had an average of 2 more coveys for each of the four survey points in the QFA than in the unmanaged area.

Our best success for quail restoration appears to be in areas where a number of landowners work together in a concentrated area. The state’s quail population has declined to the point that individual landowners may not be successful in bringing quail back to a property. Or it can be difficult to sustain a quail population over the long-term. This is especially true when isolated quail habitat efforts are totally surrounded by inhospitable quail habitat and quail are uncommon on the landscape.


Three quail huddle in snow-covered brush.
Bobwhite Covey in Food Plot
Food plots such as this soybean field can provide emergency food for quail and other wildlife during harsh winter weather.


Habitat.....Habitat is the key, but you need the cooperation of "Mother Nature" to be successful. Over the last six plus years I have owned my farm I have seen some major swings in my bird population. From one covey in a brome grass dominated farm to seven coveys in year four after spraying, disking and burning. CRP renewals to WSG and pollinator habitat two years ago, combined with two years of drought took its toll on my bird population. My MDC PLC told me to expect a set back, but in the long run this habitat change will benefit the birds. This spring the quail were calling and I actually saw my first brood of pheasants, the birds are coming back. Due to out of state bird hunting trips and welcomed rain in October I was unable to conduct covey counts this fall, but I am optimistic that my Thanksgiving weekend hunt will be fun and productive.

I live and hunt in the West Central part of the state, and have since 1973. I have listened to many comments about the decline of Bobwhite Quail. Some are absurd, some are intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, some are uproven theories, and some are sacred cows no one will touch. My issue is: with the resources available to MDC, we have been working on QFA's for nine years and this summary is the best we can do??? And, what is our plan for short, mid, and long term recovery of the species?

Kinda hard for the little bob white to compete with the almighty dollar and that is his demise. Remove the fence row equals more crop ground = more money, farm to the road ditch = more money, remove every unfarmable drainage area and install drain tile = more money. No habitat = no quail. You got your answer above, but how do you create success for our little feathered friend when he has no bank account?

Michael, I would encourage you to work with Arkasas Game and Fish private land staff. Let us know if you need more help. The contact for Benton County is Ruth Ann Gentry877-478-1043

I live in Benton County Arkansas and I am interested in reestablishing quail in my area. What can I do? I only have 200 acres but I know of an additional 500 acres that joins me.

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