Can Tennessee's vanishing quail be saved?

Once plentiful, the sprite little game bird's numbers have diminished to the point that a quail whistle is more rare than a turkey gobble in many counties.
Feb 20, 2014
The once-common bob-white is struggling for survival in many areas.

 

The springtime whistle of a bob-white echoing through the rural Southland used to be cherry and merry. These days its plaintive and mournful.

Once plentiful, the sprite little game bird's numbers have diminished to the point that a quail whistle is more rare than a turkey gobble in many counties.

Its whistle has become a somber reminder of the bob-white's plight.

Tennessee still has a quail hunting season, Nov. 2-Feb. 28, with a six-bird daily limit.

But the number of quail hunters has declined in proportion to the number of wild birds. More and more quail hunting is done on commercial reserves, such as Meadowbrook Game Farm in Westmoreland. Hunters can use their own dogs to work the pen-raised quail, or shoot over dogs supplied by the proprietor.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency continues to study the quail quandary, but so far biologists have come up with no solid answers or solutions.

Shrinking habitat and an increase in wild predators, along with roaming feral and domestic cats, might explain part of the quail's demise in specific areas.

But even in some areas where the habitat remains unchanged from decades ago, quail have vanished.

National and state organizations such as Quail Unlimited and Quail Forever help fund research and habitat-restoration programs, and solicit political and public support.

A recent missive from www.quailforever.org lists "five requirements for survival:"

Nesting habitat (mixture of clumpy grasses, wildflowers and bare soil).

Brood-rearing habitat (well-spaced plants with little ground-level foliage, but dense overhead to protect chicks from predators).

Roosting habitat (weedy grasslands or dense stand of annual weeks, with open canopy to allow quail to flush from predators).

Escape cover (dense shrubs or briars, area at least 1,500 square feet).

Food and water (year-round availability of seeds and insects, sparse duff or debris because quail are poor scratches, with food sources located near escape cover).

"Without all five, quail won't survive," writes Quail Forever.

It would be interesting to know the harvest figures on Tennessee's recently-completed quail season, although no field count is taken by the TWRA. I doubt that few hunters brought home a six-bird limit. Most hunters I know have stopped shooting wild quail because they are so scarce.

I think the TWRA should consider a moratorium on quail hunting for a couple of years to see if that would aid their comeback. I believe most quail hunters would support it, because they don't want the birds to disappear. Dedicated quail hunters could work their dogs and hone their wing-shooting on preserve birds during that period.

Clearly, whatever's been tried in the past hasn't worked, so maybe it's time to try something new. Otherwise, the quail could be doomed.

The plaintive motto of Quail Forever says it best:

"Don't let the Tennessee bobwhite become just an old dog's memory."

Comments

oldtimer1945

Where I live at now they are all gone, plus all baby's wild life is hard to find due to the hawk's that we have today.The only thing we have lefted to hunt for is the big game's!Plus the big bird's so far!

T. Mark Coleman

Larry, one of the most frustrating parts about reading these articles is that so many of them dwell on the fact that quail numbers are down and overlook what is being done to reverse the trend. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) is headquartered right there in TN at UT's campus in Knoxville. These guys are doing tremendous things for the bobwhite range-wide and have dozens of success stories. Encourage your readers to visit their website (www.bringbackbobwhites.org) and learn what is being done to resurrect our sport.

Biologist have come up with solid answers and solutions. Unfortunately most people, journalists included, don't dig deep enough to find out how biologists, hunters, property owners and others are increasing bird numbers on properties all over the US. The five requirements for survival you mention are the core of most efforts. What's missing is more detail about how to implement these requirements. You'll notice that none of these mention a moratorium on hunting as a necessity for survival.

Thank you for bringing the issue into the open. Help your readers follow up by showing what's being done successfully to preserve our sport for future generations.

(Note: Quail Unlimited closed its doors in early 2013)

Mobirdhunter

Although I'm with the writer on the plight of quail and its current state, I absolutely do not believe there is any evidence to show that closing seasons is a solution. We need more hunters -- hunters of all legal species -- to understand that many of the causes of the decline of quail are also pending for other species that seem stable at present, like deer and turkey. If you read enough and look more closely, you will see that even among deer and turkey hunters there is a growing concern for habitat issues, fragmentation of populations, disease, etc. Shut down the quail season for several years, and you'll likely never have another.

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