Missouri Quail Recovery - Habitat is the Key!

I don’t have to tell many landowners, upland bird hunters, bird watchers and outdoors enthusiasts that quail and other grassland bird populations have declined over the past 30 years. There are several “silver bullet” theories on why quail have declined and just as many on how to bring them back. The simple truth is the habitat has changed and improving habitat is the key to bringing back bobwhites.

Before I was born (Nov. 5, 1972), quail were simply a byproduct of how we managed the land. I still hear this from older, wiser quail hunters and farmers. Back then, we "unintentionally" managed the land for bobwhites. We had smaller crop fields with brushy fence rows and woody draws. Today, crop fields are much larger and picked clean!

In the good old days, pastures were planted to timothy, orchard grass and annual lespedeza. Today, all you will see is tall fescue and smooth brome or Bermuda grass down south. These grasses have spread into the woody draws, fencerows, hedgerows, woodlots, shrub thickets and road ditches. You get the picture. Habitat has changed.

I ran across some habitat pictures from the '60s and '70s taken by Jack Stanford, the Department’s quail biologist from the 1950s through 1980. When I was in high school, I worked for Jack on his farm and he helped train my first bird dog. I’ll save that story for another day.

 

Take a look at this picture of a crop field from the 1970s. Looks like pretty good quail habitat to me--lots of low-growing shrubs, native grasses and no fescue or brome. Sure, there are still places that look like this today, but not many. Progress has been great for Missouri and farmers, but not so good for bobwhite quail.

In 2002, several southeastern state fish and wildlife agencies decided to work together to do something about the decline in bobwhite quail. As a result, several state fish and wildlife agencies created the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, better known as the NBCI. The NBCI is a 20-year plan to restore bobwhite quail to 1980 levels by restoring habitat. Missouri is one of 18 states participating in this important conservation project that continues to grow and gain support.

In May 2003, the Missouri Department of Conservation set into action our quail plan, better known as the Strategic Guidance for Northern Bobwhite Recovery. Each MDC region also developed a regional quail plan with input from staff, landowners and conservation partners. You can read Missouri’s statewide quail plan. There are no pretty pictures or advertisements in the plan. The plan simply gets down to the issue. We have to create more habitat if we want to see more quail.

 

Missouri is currently in the sixth year of our plan, and we have made some great strides for restoring habitat for northern bobwhite on both private and public land. In some parts of Missouri, hunters and farmers are noticing better habitat and more quail (see picture below). Check out what Missourians did for bobwhite quail in 2007. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the report. There’s a lot of good habitat out there, and now we just need a break from all the nasty weather Missouri has experienced the past two years.

The purpose of this blog is to talk about bobwhite quail. I have several ideas on future blogs--from habitat initiatives in Missouri, popular conservation programs for private landowners, Missouri’s 34 private-land quail focus areas, our 19 public-land quail emphasis areas, cool research projects on bobwhite quail, what good quail habitat looks like, my labor to restore quail habitat on my farm and friend’s farms, private-land success stories, hunting stories, important conservation partners, quail myths, captive-raised quail, shooting preserves, prairie chickens and quail, wild turkeys and quail... you get the picture... there’s plenty to talk about.