Save the Quail

MU Field Day focuses on enhancing habitats for Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail, known for their whistle-like bob-bob-white song, are a critical indicator of the health of a habitat. Their numbers are declining in the Midwest. A project at the University of Missouri is designed to inform landowners on ways they can help save the little bird.

A field day 8 a.m. to noon on June 27 at the Bradford Research Center, east of Columbia, will showcase management practices and techniques farmers and ranchers can use to improve bobwhite habitat and increase populations on their property.

“The goal of the field day is to demonstrate practices that integrate wildlife diversity on a property, whether it’s a crop or livestock producer, forest land or property used for recreation activities,” said Tim Reinbott, Bradford superintendent. “It is also an opportunity for quail and plant enthusiasts, and people interested in conservation, to meet experts in Bobwhite Quail and habitat preservation.”

The event is sponsored by the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the Missouri Department of Conservation, MU Extension, the Missouri Soybean Association, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

North Bobwhite QuialA Little Bird in Trouble

Bobwhite Quail are small game birds, weighing only 5 to 6 ounces, which can fly short distances up to 30 mph. Bobwhite populations have suffered since the 1950s when intensive farming production practices destroyed much of their habitat. Today’s quail population is only about one-fifth of what it was in those days.

Bobwhites are an important part of the food chain, eating insects harmful to agriculture; its predators include hawks, raccoons, foxes and coyotes. A healthy bobwhite population in an area is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem.

Since 2003, a research project at Bradford has tested practical ways farmers can maintain maximum productivity while leaving enough habitat for the bobwhite to thrive. Since that time, Audubon Society counts have recorded a 23-fold quail population increase at the research farm due to these management practices.

Bobwhite Quail have more complex habitat requirements than many wildlife species, so it is important for landowners to broaden their perspective on creating habitat and focus on implementing management practices that provide more usable space for quail, Reinbott said. To accomplish this, a landowner must create the appropriate mix of early successional plant communities that quail need to meet their seasonal food and cover needs.

“In an agricultural landscape, for example, an ideal habitat would include about 50 to 60 percent of the area in annual weeds, legumes and row crops, 20 to 30 percent in native warm-season grass habitats, and about 20 percent in shrubby, brushy cover interspersed across the property,” said Bob Pierce, Extension fish and wildlife specialist.  “These types of habitats can easily be integrated with ongoing agricultural or forestry objectives.”

Tim Reinbott. Photo by Kyle SpradleyTim Reinbott. Photo by Kyle Spradley

Getting Practical – How to Save the Quail

The field day will feature four tours of field operations reflecting best management techniques.

One tour, Farm and Habitat Management, will discuss the best practices field burning. Topics include how to determine the objective of the burning, the best timing, safety and how to use sprayers to control the fire. This tour will also discuss proper disking for wildlife and using sprayers to kill unwanted invasive plants.

The second tour is called Managing Field Edges for Wildlife. Topics here include edge feathering, hinge cutting, forest thinning, brush management and determining field size to promote wildlife.

The third tour, Crop Field Management, details pollinator and eco-type planting, cover crop refuges for pollinators and wildlife, and various farm agency programs.

Conservation Habitat Management Techniques, the fourth tour, will teach landowners how to determine quail populations by counting their whistles, and creating a habitat plan to increase the birds’ numbers.

There will be a classroom session called Quail 101. This will be a discussion by experts on basic habitat management to promote quail. This session includes an interactive tour and a question and answer opportunity.

The event will be followed by a demonstration on how to prepare Asian carp, an invasive fish species that is displacing native fish in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. A free lunch will be available to those who complete a program evaluation.

“Our goal is to integrate wildlife diversity of a farm with the ongoing agricultural objectives,” Reinbott said.

The event is free and requires no registration.