For over 100 years, Georgia has been known as a premiere bobwhite quail hunting destination and the Georgia General Assembly even designated the bobwhite as the State Gamebird in 1970.
However, due to extensive changes in Georgia’s landscape over the last 75+ years the quail population has declined drastically, and consequently so have the number of quail hunters. The good news is there is growing interest in quail restoration. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resource Division is working with landowners through the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) to restore habitat for quail, songbirds and other grass-forb-shrub dependent wildlife species.
"Through BQI we are working with private landowners and land managers to restore and enhance habitat for bobwhites, songbirds, rabbits, wild turkeys and other wildlife around the edges of crop fields and within pine stands,” said Reggie Thackston, WRD Private Lands Program Manager and coordinator of the BQI.
Special Event Held
The Division recently hosted a landowner field day at Riverbend Wildlife Management Area in Laurens County. Topics included: quail habitat restoration and management, habitat fragmentation, predator management, supplemental feeding, control of exotic/invasive species, improving pine stands for quail and dove field management.
The field day was co-sponsored by AgGeorgia Farm Credit, Georgia Forestry Commission, Tall Timbers Research Station – Albany Quail Project, and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Quail Habitat Needs
Quail, like other wildlife species, have specific habitat needs. WRD BQI Biologist James Tomberlin explains there are three major components of quail habitat: 1) nesting cover – clumps of native grass like broomsedge and/or 2-year old weedy growth; 2) brood range – typically 1-year old vegetative growth with canopied weeds like ragweed, beggarweed and partridge pea that have bareground underneath so chicks can forage for insects and seeds; and 3) escape cover – brambles and thickets. Providing these three components is critical to restoring and sustaining quail populations across the landscape.
"We’re working with landowners to manage the edges of crop fields and adjacent pine stands for bobwhites and proving this can be done without significantly impacting the farming operation,” says Tomberlin. “BQI and other studies have shown that placing as little as 10 percent of the land in the right kind of cover can significantly increase bobwhite populations and songbird use while also reducing soil erosion and improving water quality.”
Many species of wildlife, such as quail, also are victims of habitat fragmentation.
“Habitat fragmentation occurs when large continuous blocks of suitable habitat are split into smaller and smaller pieces through land use changes. These habitat islands or fragments become incapable of sustaining bobwhite populations long-term,” says Thackston.
The goal of the BQI program is to work with enough landowners and even facilitate formation of “landowner cooperatives” so that large blocks of habitat will be managed to provide suitable habitat for quail. This will improve the quail population response to habitat management and ultimately improve quail hunting.
However, the benefits can impact more than hunters. Improving habitat for quail also means improved habitat for many species of wildlife that use this habitat type and it could help rural economies by attracting hunters and potentially provide an opportunity for quail hunting leases.
Editor’s Note: Images are available.