By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
I remember sitting on the back porch with my grandfather (better known as Papa) when I was much younger and looking out through the trees. His back yard was full of nothing but pines, oaks, and a huge gazebo. My grandparents were their own definition of botanists and had every color of azalea and every color crepe myrtle in that backyard. The flowers brought in all kinds of birds and I specifically remember him whistling like a bobwhite. He would tell me to be very quiet and in between puffs from his cigar he would “whistle like a bobwhite”. He swore they answered and would point out a few. I had no idea what he was talking about but I was intrigued by this bird called a bobwhite. Well, 20 years later and I finally know just what he was talking about.
Bobwhite Quail in Alabama are scarce these days, but I believe we are in the middle of a comeback era. I have seen more and more along roadsides and not just one or two, but six or eight. To a wildlife specialist, this is good news (just like the skunks!). Back in the old days, agricultural land was more abundant and that directly correlated to the abundance in quail. You see, quail like open land that is bordered by woods or brooding habitat. Once the agricultural land became urbanized, quail began to disperse and sightings were becoming more and more infrequent. Today, quail occupy large areas of open pine forests that are interspersed with small fields and clumps of thickets used for nesting habitat. Along with open forests, there must also be and open canopy. This allows sunlight to hit the forest ground and promote the growth of grasses and weeds that are essential to bobwhite brooding and food consumption. Prescribed burning is an excellent management technique that is essential to maintaining bobwhite habitat, as quail like to nest in clumps of weeds that are about one year old. If it gets too dense, the quail will abandon that area. Alabama is becoming more and more consistent with prescribed burning and I believe that has a lot to do with the resurfacing of quail populations. But habitat is not the only factor that drove the quail population down.
You guessed it, predators. We like eating quail just as much as a raccoon or opossum so can you really blame them?? But trapping has become more of a pastime during the “off-season” and I know this is the major reason quails are surviving. It is important to practice predator control on your property for multiple reasons, but if you’re a bobwhite fan, it is a must. Predation is the number one reason for quail mortality. THAT IS SCARY!! Why not purchase a few foothold traps and hand traps and see what you can do? You will no doubt increase the chances of survival for quail and turkey on your property by doing so.
I encourage anybody who has more than a few hundred acres to manage their land for bobwhites. First of all, quail management is aesthetically pleasing for your land and good for your overall forest health and secondly, who doesn’t want to see coveys of quail fly up every now and then? I believe that Alabama is on the right track to bringing back suitable habitat for quail, it will just take some time and dedication. Get out on your land today and see what areas you could manage for bobwhites!
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