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Take Heart – We Can Bring Quail Back

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.