Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | August 1, 2020
From Missouri Conservationist: August 2020

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Wildlife Management

Northern Bobwhite Study

Since the late 1960s, Missouri northern bobwhite populations have dropped by 80 percent, largely due to land-use changes. Conservation areas and other public lands comprise critical habitat for bobwhite.

“Managers need to know the best combination of habitat and management practices to conserve Missouri’s bobwhite populations throughout the year,” said MDC Resource Scientist Tom Thompson. He and colleagues from the University of Missouri (MU), MDC, and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) worked to meet this need for informed conservation.

From 2016 to 2019, their study of bobwhite population dynamics focused on five conservation areas in southwest Missouri. Two are traditionally managed areas that include cropland and food plots for wildlife use. The other three are extensive native grasslands managed with prescribed fire and conservation grazing.

The researchers used a full annual cycle population model, which combined count, nesting, and radio-tracking data to estimate site-specific effects of traditionally managed areas versus native grassland areas on bobwhite seasonal survival, fecundity, and population growth.

“Results from this phase showed that bobwhite on native grasslands hatched more young and had higher adult breeding season survival,” MU researcher Emily Sinnott said. Population growth was most strongly correlated with nonbreeding season survival from Nov. 1 through April 30 and greatest on the largest native grassland site, Wah’Kon-Tah. USFS Research Wildlife Biologist Frank Thompson added, “While bobwhite populations on native grassland had the best growth rates, they were still declining, indicating we still need to learn more about bobwhite management and population viability.”

Northern Bobwhite Study at a Glance

  • Bobwhite population growth was most strongly correlated with winter survival and nesting success
  • Native grasslands managed with prescribed fire and grazing had the highest rates of nest success, adult breeding survival, and population growth
Possible Applications
  • On conservation areas and other public lands managed for bobwhite
  • To support investments in public land supporting good bobwhite populations
  • To support private landowners near bobwhite population strongholds
Full Annual Cycle Methods 2016–2019
  • Nest monitoring
  • Spring whistle count
  • Radio telemetry

Learn more at

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler