Stop Zombie Quail!

Jack didn’t have a crystal ball, but the writing was on the wall. Missouri's landscape was changing for bobwhites.

Over the years, bobwhites have experienced a slow decline due to habitat degradation and destruction. The occasional ice storm, blizzard or flood helped speed up the decline or eventually wiped out isolated populations. Dr. Fred Guthery describes isolated populations in his book "On Bobwhites" as “zombie quail,” which can result in “graveyard habitats.”

“Zombie quail” is an isolated population that is only one or two bad weather events away from being wiped out. These isolated coveys are usually restricted to small patches of good habitat surrounded by massive areas of poor habitat. For example, I have a "zombie quail" population on my family farm in Osage County. The farm is a 140-acre island of good quail habitat in the middle of a quail desert (overgrazed fescue pastures and big oak/hickory forests).

If the farms around us stay the same, our “zombie quail” population will always be one major weather event (ice, snow, rain, drought or flood) away from giving us “graveyard habitat.” In other words, if our quail population is completely wiped out by an ice storm there might not be any birds nearby to repopulate our island of good habitat. Even though the habitat looks great, there are no birds, which gives us "graveyard habitat."

The weather we have experienced in Missouri the past two years has probably created more “zombie quail” populations and “graveyard habitat” in places. Over the past five years our farm has gone from one, two, five, two and one covey, respectively. The dropoff from five to two and then one is likely related to the hard winters and the fact that we have a "zombie quail" population. In the meantime we’ll keep on managing for quail. We still have an incredible rabbit population (proof in the picture below), deer hunting has never been better and we are starting to see wild turkeys around the farm even though we only have about 10 oak trees on the entire place. The turkeys really like the farm for nesting and brooding habitat and deer use the farm for bedding cover.

Fortunately today there are still good pockets of quail habitat scattered across Missouri and more being created every day. I think we'll eventually see a recovery in these places. We just need a break from