Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How familiar are you with the Bobwhite Quail?

In my Florida Hunter Safety class we talk about the Northern Bobwhite Quail all the time, but usually only in the context of it being Florida's one of two resident game birds. Florida Wild Turkey being the only other. When I was a kid growing up on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas we would routinely hunt this cute little critter, and they were in great abundance. One of my buddies had a dog and after school we would grab our shotguns and head for the rolling grasslands out past Chapin Road until it got dark. Most days we didn't shoot anything, but just being out in the field letting the dogs find and point these beautiful birds was worth it. Those were the days.

Photo Credit: Dave Baker: From the album Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources.

The Northern bobwhite is a medium-sized, round-bodied bird with a short tail and neck. Plumage is reddish brown with streaking on the sides. Males have a black-and-white face pattern; in females it is black-and-buff.
They occur throughout Florida in appropriate habitat. In addition to mature upland forests, the best habitats include fallow agricultural fields dominated by such species as ragweed, and the edges of cultivated grain fields.  More about the Northern Bobwhite Quail in Florida.

Now let's fast forward the clock from 1970's to present.  Central Florida, like so many other parts of the country have seen a steady decline in quail populations.  The primary cause is loss of habitat, with other secondary factors being increased number of predators such as feral cats and raccoons which raid nesting sites.

The status and future of quail in Florida is not completely bleak.  Wildlife biologists are working with the agriculture industry to set aside habitat for this wonderful bird, and keep open some areas for managed hunts.  Thanks to industry groups such as the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative who works with the various game commissions, we will hopefully see increased numbers down the road.

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