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 Friday, June 08, 2012 308 Third Ave • Albany, GA 31701 • (229) 883-3209 • Fax:(229) 883-3979 www.qu.org 

Quail Unlimited® is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the wise use and management of America's wild quail, doves, upland game birds and other forms of wildlife.


the Quail Unlimited Story of Conservationt's the same old story, ...repeated over and over again...
Where have the quail gone? Has there been a mystery disease that has wiped out the quail populations? Has some unknown predator completely devoured them? Have they been displaced by another species? Have fire ants eaten all the chicks? Maybe some of those chemicals have poisoned them. Everyone has his own hypothesis, but the plain and simple truth is that quail populations are directly related to habitat or the lack of habitat, especially on a landscape scale. Land changes over farming and ranching communities have been responsible for many of the declining landscape habitats. To restore quail populations, landowners must make a commitment to adopt wildlife-friendly practices on their land.

Ecological Barometer

Quail have always been a favorite of many landowners and hunting enthusiasts across the United States. They also serve as an ecological "barometer", indicating a healthy ecological community. Quail use a variety of habitat types, depending primarily on the early and mid-stages of plant succession. An early successional plant community is created as a result of area that has been recently disturbed. It contains grasses and legumes, a wide variety of broadleaf plants, annual weeds and brushy cover, all closely interspersed across the landscape.

One of the great challenges for managers and landowners interested in quail and other early successional species is to maintain the landscape in a stage of plant communities that are most beneficial to quail. There is no mystery to the declining populations of quail and other early successional species; it is in direct correlation with the loss of their habitat. There are multitudes of reasons for the losses, many of which are a result of the changing landscape from early colonial days to our modern society today. The future of quail depends on the creation or maintenance of suitable habitat on private and public lands.

gamma grass quail habitat cover
To be successful, we need to continually increase awareness and landowner education in order to effectively influence management efforts. In many instances, wildlife management is not the primary objective of landowners. Besides all the human elements that have caused the decline, nature herself works against us! It is the natural scheme to progress from bare ground to the climax forest in an orderly and progressive manner. The job of maintaining early successional habitats or any other habitat is really against nature's way. It is similar to the constant battle that our settlers had in maintaining their grasslands and in clearing forests for their fields. The reasons for declining populations of quail and other grassland species generally are not understood by the public and by many landowners. They see populations of species like wild turkeys and white-tailed deer at all time highs. These particular species have benefited from the landscape changes and the increased acreages of advanced successional growth. As a general rule, those type species are wider ranging and more adaptable to modern day changes. However, to the casual observer, it only seems logical that quail should follow the same trends as those upland species. Early successional species have much more specific habitat requirements than originally thought, and their populations are more sensitive to changes.

Changes in the American Landscape

Favorable quail habitats were well represented on family farms throughout the country in the 1930s through 50s. Sharecropping and the early century farming practices created a patchwork effect across the countryside that was beneficial to quail and other small game species. The annual disturbances of fields by farming, the frequent use of fire, the somewhat inefficient methods that left weeds and fencerows along the edges and waste grain in the fields created ideal habitat conditions, and quail flourished in those communities. During the Great Depression, many family farms were abandoned as families moved to town or sold their property. The farms left unattended quickly left the early successional stage and rapidly progressed to mid-to late successional plant communities. Many farms were also planted into trees or quickly developed into young forests, eliminating the most conducive stages for quail. Some family farms were combined with other farms to develop larger or, in some instances, corporate farms. In these cases, smaller fields were combined and their fencerow borders eliminated to make room for larger and more efficient equipment. The loss of the family farms and fencerows with their benefits was probably one of the most detrimental losses for quail.

The continued demise of the small subsistence farms and urban sprawl have contributed to a change in the overall landscape of the country. Besides the loss of patchwork farming, former farm fields began to be planted in fescue
and pine trees, especially in the Southeast. Fescue, Bermuda grass and other introduced grasses are important grasses for grazing and erosion control, but provide almost no benefit for quail from a nesting, brood or cover standpoint. Fescue began replacing more wildlife-friendly mixtures present in the old farming scheme. Fescue has also been blamed for the decline in other grassland bird species. Korean or Kobe lespedeza was planted and used widely for hay production on historic family farms. Many "old timers" just referred to the fields as "lespedeza", which is a valuable source of food and nesting cover.

Habitat changes are sometimes subtle. Many landowners claim that their farms have not changed in 20 years; however, from the quail perspective, they have had dramatic changes. For instance, some owners claim that a fencerow between fields is still there. Even though the overall location may be the same, if no cutbacks have been made to the fencerow, there have been dramatic changes. What used to be a low growing, relatively narrow strip with weedy edges and an overhead canopy has now turned into a wide sprawling tree row with no ground cover and very little wildlife benefit. Other vegetative and ecological changes take place and sometimes go unnoticed.

Despite a growing awareness of the importance of preserving and improving upland game habitat, more and more quail habitat is lost each year. In addition, severe seasonal weather conditions such as drought and extreme cold can decimate upland bird populations, especially in the fringe of their ranges. Most agencies are still encouraging individual landowners, but more importantly, have also begun to implement wide-ranging "landscape" approaches. The formation of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee and the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative are recent examples of a multitude of partners working together to address quail populations on a regional and national scale.

If you build it...

The decline of quail populations is directly related to the loss of quality habitat. Biologists know how to manage for quail—it is not rocket science. Landowners who want to manage for quail must understand that there are no secret solutions, no magic beans, no super quail and no shortcuts. Habitat management requires hard work, dedication, patience and
understanding. In most cases, if you build it, they will come. Most state and federal agencies have programs to help landowners manage wildlife on their properties and to address the declining habitat conditions. There are also a variety of publications and brochures available to assist landowners in developing management plans for their properties. Some management practices cost little or nothing, while others may require landowners to sacrifice some potential income or other goals in order to implement beneficial practices.

Check with your state wildlife agency or your local federal farm office to learn what is available in your area. There are even state and federal incentive programs to assist landowners with their management practices. There have been recent changes in state and federal priorities toward early successional species management. New programs provide additional incentives for landowners to use wildlife-friendly practices on their properties.

If you are concerned about declining quail populations, then come join us at Quail Unlimited, America's Leader in Quail Conservation. Join the thousands of members, hundreds of chapters and dozens of conservation partners in helping to restore America's quail populations for future generations.

You might want to review some of our recent accomplishments and see just how much has been done through our members, chapters and partners. Quail is not our business; it's our life, at Quail Unlimited!