Plants & Animals

Northern Bobwhite

Just 3 acres of restored native warm-season grasses and forbs lured this whistling Missouri resident back to our property

A few months ago, my wife and I had just returned from a week-long vacation and we were sitting on our deck at sunrise, enjoying the “home is where the heart is” glow of being back in Missouri. The landscape was sprinkled with black-eyed Susans of the burgeoning prairie we had established a few years earlier where fescue once flour­ished. Although we were eager to see the first clumps of mature Indian grass, the colorful forbs gave us hope that the little prairie would soon be a success. What happened next jolted us with surprise.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, already knowing my wife had heard the bobwhite’s call. We listened for a few seconds more and then heard the whistle more clearly, its second syllable cracking like a whip from the prairie. We were stunned to hear a sound we hadn’t heard for at least two decades on the farm. Typical of most hay farms in Missouri, we were flush with turkey, deer, and rabbits, but quail had been snubbing our fescue and other dense vegetation for years. By converting only 3 acres of fescue to warm season grass and forbs, we had enticed at least one northern bobwhite to visit our property.

As I pinpointed the quail’s location, my wife called her mom, who lives down the hill, to ask about the new arrival. “Oh yes, he moved in while you were gone,” she replied. “He has been dusting every day in my flower bed and calling from atop my arbor.” I decided to try my luck at a whistle to see if I could get a look at our new resident. After only one whistle, a little flat in pitch as usual, the bobwhite emerged from the prairie, flew over our house and landed in the maple tree in our front yard. I headed inside to grab my camera. Although I’d jumped hundreds of quail at Shaw Nature Reserve, just down the road, I’d never managed to photograph one.

I carefully opened the front door and skulked down the steps with my camera, fearful I would flush the rotund little visitor from the maple tree. When I finally settled my tripod into position I aimed the lens to­ward a dead branch to find the bobwhite staring back at me, completely unobstructed. As I began shooting, he started calling again and later stretched his legs for the featured shot of this story. A few minutes later, the quail dropped from the branch into the yard and made a dead run back to the prairie as our lone chicken Sweetie watched in amazement.

As of this writing, the vociferous quail is still living at our farm near Union and we frequently hear a second bird nearby. We hope to see chicks some day but for now we are happy to hear the call of the bobwhite each morning and afternoon.

—Story and photos by Danny Brown

We help people discover nature through our online field guide. Visit mdc.mo.gov/node/73 to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.