Jim Casada

National efforts can help bobwhites


A previous column covered some of the problems quail face, and noted how populations of this saucy little patrician have plummeted. Things are so bad that simply hearing a mating whistle in the spring, or flushing a wild covey in the winter, is reason to celebrate. That’s quite a change from a sound that was once an integral part of the rural landscape.

There’s no denying that things look bad. Despite decades of devoted study at the Tall Timbers research facility near Tallahassee, Fla.,efforts by wildlife biologists across the bobwhite’s range and by state game departments quail numbers continue to drop dramatically.

Recently a devastating outbreak of quail eye disease hit Texas.

Feral cats, a mortal enemy of not just quail but songbirds in general, are at an all time high.

Increasing urbanization, with many cat ownersletting their “pets” roam free and in doing so employ their natural killing instincts, certainly don’t help.

Even stricter regulations about controlled burning, long recognized as a type of habitat management that is particularly beneficial to quail, are detrimental.

Throw in ever-expanding coyote populations, raptors numbers that are at an all-time high, and ongoing loss of habitat, and the bobwhite picture seems a bleak one.

There is reason for hope.

With intensive management that includes controlled burning, planting of beneficial foods, and predator trapping, quail can thrive. The problem is that such operations are expensive and labor intensive. They lie well beyond the reach of the budgets of most landowners and the average sportsman. But they do give a glimmer of hope. They tell us the bobwhite can be saved.

The bird’s real salvation likely lies with regional or national efforts to bring back the bobwhite. One organization which has shown great promiseis the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, www.bringbackbobwhites.org. This group is a coalition of 25 state wildlife agencies working with an establish strategic plan, a dedicated team of specialists, and a state-of-the-art Geographic Information System built by hundreds of biologists within the 25-state region.

Another noteworthy effort, and it comes from the grassroots, is the conservation organization Quail Forever, www.quailforever.org. It is a successor group to Quail Unlimited, an ill-fated organization that failed thanks to a mind-boggling array of problems connected with money management and leadership. Quail Foreveris dedicated to “conservation of quail, pheasants and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education, and land management policies and practices.”

Two portions of that mission statement go to the heart of the matter. Only through public awareness – especially the hunting public – and greater knowledge of the plight of the bobwhite and how to address it can changes for the better be expected. Quail Forever seems to be taking a lot of the right steps – their membership rolls are growing, fundraising seems to be working well, and they are working hard to convey a message that quail remain an enduring part of the sporting landscape.

Things aren’t going to change overnight.The quail’s future is cloudy. But anyone who has thrilled to a pointer locked in place at the edge of a field of broom sedge asparkle with millions of frost diamonds glittering in the sun of a December morning, or any soul that has been stirred by a covey taking wing at sunset on a chill January day, must look ahead with hope and with a mindset that says “I must do my part,” to bring back this splendid game bird Havilah Babcock immortalized as “five ounces of feathered dynamite.”