The bobwhite quail used to be found across the United States’ open prairies and grasslands, but in the last 100 years their populations have declined dramatically. Some regions of the country have seen bobwhite quail populations fall by as much as 80% since the mid 1900s.
This rapid decline in bobwhite quail numbers is due in large part to habitat loss—they are running out of places to mate, live, and hide. Homes, roads, and buildings have sprung up on the grasslands the bobwhite quail once called home. In addition to the bobwhite quail, many other wildlife species such as songbirds, invertebrates, mammals, and birds of prey rely on these disappearing grasslands.
Small in size, quick on the wing, and well adapted for open grasslands, the bobwhite quail is a little upland bird that was once prevalent from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Today it’s limited to the southern Great Plains spreading eastward to the Southeastern United States. This baseball-sized bird is covered with mottled brown, tan, gray, white, and black feathers and weighs only a few ounces.The bobwhite quail lives in coveys of up to 20 birds, and the quail’s survival is highly dependent upon grassland ecosystems.
For centuries, hunters have pursued this popular game bird, and birders enjoy listening to the distinct call of the bobwhite and watching their quick escapes on the wing. In addition to their recreational value, quail are also a crucial part of the grassland itself.
The presence of quail in a grassland helps show if the ecosystem is healthy. A healthy grassland has the right balance of vegetation, food, space, and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife species. This robust grassland looks like an open prairie with waist-high grasses, spots of bare ground, and smaller trees or shrubs on the edges of a field. The grassland ecosystems that are most beneficial for quail contain the perfect amount of shelter, feed, and open spaces.
All About Teamwork
As suitable bobwhite quail habitat across the eastern United States continues to decrease, the National Park Service (NPS) works to help address the issue of grassland preservation and restoration. The NPS is collaborating with several state wildlife agencies and private organizations to get a larger grasslands restoration effort rolling on NPS lands across the Eastern United States.
The idea of collaborating with a state wildlife agency and a non-government organization to restore grassland ecosystems within specific national parks came from a grasslands restoration project at Pea Ridge National Military Park, located in northwestern Arkansas. The NPS partnered with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative to restore, maintain, and manage Pea Ridge’s grasslands and prairies. Restoring these grassland habitats, including declining bobwhite quail populations as well as other critical ecosystem components, is a priority for all of the parties involved in the project.
Physically restoring a landscape requires many different management practices. This is especially true when it comes to reestablishing habitats that have been altered for centuries. Over the past two centuries, the land that currently makes up Pea Ridge National Military Park has served as native prairies, battlefields during the Civil War, and farm grounds. Before the land at Pea Ridge National Military park was used for battle fields and farms, it was used and managed by American Indians.
Some of the restoration techniques used at Pea Ridge include:
Controlled burning of grasslands inside the park.
Selective use of herbicides.
Cutting and removing trees and shrubs.
Removing overgrown grasses and weeds.
These restoration practices help create a healthier grassland ecosystem in many ways. Controlled fires remove most of the overgrown, non-native, and weedy plant species within a grassland ecosystem. The controlled fires make space for younger native grasses and forbs, which are different types flowering plants commonly found in grasslands. Young native plants also provide food and shelter for grassland wildlife species, such as the bobwhite quail.
In addition to new plant life, areas that lack vegetation and have open patches of soil are another key component of excellent wildlife habitat, including bobwhite quail habitat. The quail use these areas to “gravel up” after they feed. When a quail “gravels up,” it eats small stones and pieces of gravel that help it digest its food. An open landscape with smaller sections of trees and shrubs also provides excellent shelter for the bobwhite quail and many other wildlife species such as songbirds, small mammals, and invertebrates.
Success at Pea Ridge Spurs Change
Although bobwhite quail and grassland-dependent bird numbers have largely been declining in the Eastern United States, some populations have begun to make recoveries in recent years as their habitats recover too.
Riding on the coattails of the success at Pea Ridge, other national park units have recently begun their own restoration initiatives, and dozens more have expressed interest in employing similar projects in the future.
National Park Service ecologists and biologists are exploring and implementing similar efforts at other parks in the United States such as Manassas National Battlefield Park in northern Virginia, Chickasaw National Recreation Area in southern Oklahoma, and recently Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in central Alabama. These restoration projects are similar to the Pea Ridge restoration project and will require collaboration with other government agencies, state natural resource departments, non-government organizations, and private landowners.
Recovering Grasslands Hold Potential for Prosperous Future
Moments after the covey of bobwhite quail glides into the thicket of trees lining the open grassy field, a sharp whistle calls out from underneath one of the trees. Not far off, another whistle answers back. Bob-white, they both call out in a rising, two-toned whistle. Several more whistles echo the same call from across the field. Among the tall prairie grasses that sprawl out from the edges of the trees, the rustling of running quail and their sharp whistles bring the prairie to life.
As grasslands at certain national park units begin to make a recovery thanks to habitat restoration efforts, so will the wildlife species that depend on those habitats. The bobwhite quail is just one example of a success story among many others.
WASHINGTON (March 29, 2018) – As many as one-third of America’s wildlife species are at increased risk of extinction, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation, the American Fisheries Society and The Wildlife Society.
“America’s wildlife are in crisis and now is the time for unprecedented on-the-ground collaboration,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth. Recovering wildlife is a win-win-win: strengthening our economy, improving public health, and making communities more resilient.”
About one-third of the nation’s best-known groups of species—from vertebrates, like birds and mammals, to invertebrates such as butterflies and freshwater mussels—are imperiled or vulnerable. These figures, based on conservation status assessments carried out by NatureServe and its state natural heritage program partners, paint a stark picture of the overall condition of America’s extraordinary diversity of wildlife.
“I have spent more than three decades looking at how wildlife in the United States are faring,” said Bruce Stein, PhD, chief scientist and associate vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. “Although there have been some great conservation successes, many of our species continue to decline, and we are seeing the emergence of major new threats to America’s wildlife. It’s time to make sure that the scale of our conservation efforts match the scope of this problem.”
Among the findings in Reversing America’s Wildlife Crisis: Securing the Future of Our Fish and Wildlife:
• One-third of America’s wildlife species are at increased risk of extinction.
• More than 150 U.S. species already have gone extinct.
• Nearly 500 additional species have not been seen in recent decades and are regarded as possibly extinct.
• Approximately 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater fish species are now rare or imperiled.
• Seventy percent of North America’s freshwater mussels are imperiled or already extinct.
• Pollinator populations are dropping precipitously. Monarch butterfly populations in the eastern U.S., for instance, have dwindled by 90 percent over the past two decades.
• Thirty percent of North America’s bat species have seen significant declines over the past two decades
• Amphibians are disappearing from their known habitats at a rate of 4 percent each year.
“Wildlife in America need help. Species are increasingly at risk in all regions of the country and across all categories of wildlife,” said John McDonald, PhD, president of The Wildlife Society. “This decline is not inevitable. Wildlife professionals in every state have action plans ready to go to conserve all wildlife for future generations, but we need the funding to turn this situation around.”
The report also describes success stories where concerted, collaborative efforts have been able to make a difference for at-risk species of wildlife.
• By the late 1970s, not a single Canada lynx was found in Colorado. These solitary cats play an important ecological role, balancing the populations of smaller mammals like snowshoe hares. Two decades ago, Colorado Parks and Wildlife started a lynx reintroduction program; today a self-sustaining population of 150-250 lynx now roam Colorado’s backcountry.
• New England cottontail populations have dwindled for decades due to habitat loss; the species was once a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. A collaborative effort between states, federal agencies, tribes, and non-profit organizations created lost habitats and reintroduced captive-bred rabbits to the wild.
• Brook trout populations in the eastern U.S. currently exist in just 10 percent of its historic habitats, but a partnership with members from Georgia to Maine—including 17 different state wildlife agencies—is working to improve the outlook for the prized sportfish.
“Nearly half of our fish species are struggling. Other aquatic species, like mussels, are in even worse shape,” said Drue Winters, policy director of the American Fisheries Society. “We know how to improve the outlook for our America’s aquatic wildlife and we know this would have economic benefits as well—we just need the political will to make it happen.”
The National Wildlife Federation is uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world.
The Wildlife Society works to inspire, empower, and enable wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and their habitats through science-based management and conservation.
The American Fisheries Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources.
As Congress considers updated funding for food and agriculture, it’s also pondering a proposal to favor native plants on conservation land.
March 20, 2018 — Sometime soon — maybe this year, maybe next — biologist Jeffrey Glassberg expects to say goodbye to the Poweshiek skipperling. The endangered, orange-and-brown butterfly is one of several species in the Upper Midwest’s prairies on the slippery slope toward extinction. In the past decade, it appears to have winked out in the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota, leaving only a scattered few individuals in Michigan, Wisconsin and Manitoba.
As founder and president of the North American Butterfly Association, Glassberg finds their twilight wrenching. “I can’t tell you how painful this whole thing is,” he says.
Prairie butterflies owe their troubles largely to the conversion of native grasslands — among the most diverse ecosystems on the planet — to row-crop agriculture. Only about 4 percent of America’s prairie remains, according to the National Park Service; one report found that the Great Plains lost more grassland in 2014 than Brazil’s Amazon lost forest. Grassland conversion also has fueled disturbing declines in other pollinating insects — which provide some US$9 billion a year in agricultural benefits in the U.S. — and grassland birds, whose populations have plummeted more steeply and consistently in recent decades than any other group of North American birds.
Read more at https://ensia.com/articles/farm-bill/
FORT SMITH – Ask any wildlife biologist where they may find quail, and the last place you’d expect would likely be a golf course. Well-manicured fairways with small flags nearly anyone could spot from 400 yards sound like ideal hunting grounds for avian predators such as a hawk. But these manicured fairways aren’t the entire picture. Nearly every golf course contains “rough” spaces which add some degree of difficulty into the game. With a little forethought and planning, these unkempt spaces also can provide critical habitat for many wildlife species such as quail, and do it at a reduced maintenance cost for golf-course owners.
A few years ago, the superintendent of the Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith decided to change up his management approach to maintaining the course.
“Roughs” were strategically converted to native grasses and wildflowers, which require much less maintenance than introduced species once established.
“Grasses like big bluestem and little bluestem are very drought tolerant and require little to no nutrients added to the soil because they are already adapted to the conditions,” said Levi Horrell, assistant regional supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at its Beaver Lake Regional Office. “They also improve local water quality by increased filtration and less fertilizer runoff. In the case of Ben Geren, the restoration plan has even been thought out in such a way that there is connectivity between native patches, allowing wildlife to more feasibly move across the course.”
Bobwhite Quail are just one species that has already responded to the restoration. Quail not only are game animals that have experienced significant declines in recent years, but they are indicators of habitat quality. Wildflowers that produce cover and forage for quail also support a wide variety of songbirds and even butterflies such as the Monarch. With many species seeing declines due to human development and changes in land use, creativity in our efforts to maintain or restore wildlife populations is critical.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Acres For Wildlife program can even provide technical assistance, seed and herbicide to restore native vegetation on private land. In this case, assistance was provided to the Ben Geren Golf Course to support their efforts in restoring portions of the property. In addition to the northern bobwhite restoration, the land’s historical purpose played a key role in its restoration.
“The property is situated on what was once part of the Massard Prairie,” Horrell said. “This prairie has now essentially been developed over and looks nothing like it once did. As a result, many wildlife and plant species that were native to the area are now either gone or increasingly hard to find.”
One flower species in the area (Nuttall’s pleatleaf) is so rare that Ben Geren is one of only a handful of places in the state where it is known to be found and it waits for only one perfect moment out of the year to bloom (after approximately three hours the entire event is over). However, with work like what is occurring at Ben Geren, the area will not only continue to provide enjoyment to the people who visit, it will also provide some protected space for the plants and animals that belong there.
Thanks to the success of this golf course conversion, the AGFC has planned a special meeting with the Golf Course Supertintendents Association of Arkansas this month to share the methods used to improve habitat and lower maintenance cost and discuss ways the AGFC can expand some of its resources toward these diamonds in the rough.
It is like no other form of hunting.
It is exhilarating, action-packed, and humbling to even the most practiced shotgun shooter!
I should know. I grew up with it on our southeastern Nebraska farm.
What kind of hunting is it?
IT is hunting the northern bobwhite quail.
Have you ever hunted quail?
It’s awesome! You need to try it. And, their numbers this year look outstanding!
Northern bobwhite quail abundance again increased statewide and in most regions of the state compared to 2016, based on the July Rural Mail Carrier and Whistle Count Surveys.
“Quail numbers are near all-time highs over much of their range in Nebraska, so this should be an excellent year for quail hunters and those interested in becoming quail hunters,” says Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“This should be the best year for quail in quite a long time, adds Lusk. “It’s been about 20 years or more since quail populations have been this high.” It would be a fantastic year to discover or rediscover hunting the northern bobwhite quail in Nebraska,” he emphasizes.
Read more about quail hunting in Nebraska this year.
Published: Thursday, October 5, 2017
Congressional leaders from South Dakota and Minnesota are spearheading a bipartisan effort to include legislation in the 2018 farm bill designed to protect native prairie and grasslands by limiting federal subsidies for farmers who plow these areas for cropland.
Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) yesterday introduced S. 1913, titled the “American Prairie Conservation Act.” The “sodsaver” bill would create economic disincentives for farmers to plow native prairies and grasslands by closing a crop insurance yield substitution loophole in all 50 states.
Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) co-sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.
Also yesterday, Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) introduced the House version of the bill, H.R. 3939.
The legislation would not prevent farmers from converting native sod to cropland. But a summary of the bill says farmers who choose to do so would “face a reduction in crop insurance premium subsidy assistance and a reduction in guaranteed yields of insured crops.”
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementation of the sodsaver legislation in all 50 states could save taxpayers more than $50 million over 10 years.
Thune said in a statement that the goal of the legislation is not only to save money, but to “protect America’s diminishing prairie grasslands that are so important to our grazing livestock producers.”
Indeed, the legislation comes at a time when grasslands are disappearing rapidly across the Great Plains (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2016).
“Not only is this an example of a good-government solution, but the savings achieved by our bill could be used elsewhere in an already cash-strapped farm bill,” Thune said in a statement.
Thune sponsored legislation that added a sodsaver provision to the 2008 farm bill. Thune and Klobuchar in the Senate, and Walz and Noem in the House, also sponsored legislation that added the sodsaver provision to the 2014 farm bill. But in each case, it only applied to prairies and grasslands in six states — South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana and Nebraska.
The legislation “has successfully reduced the conversion of native sod, saved taxpayer dollars and encouraged wildlife habitat” in those six states, Klobuchar said.
But she added the latest bills “would extend this small, commonsense change to the crop insurance program and boost conservation efforts and savings nationwide.”
A study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that the vast majority of new croplands — 5.7 million acres — plowed between 2008 and 2012 were grasslands (E&E News PM, April 2, 2015).
What’s more, the study found that two-thirds of cropland conversion during this time period occurred outside the six states in which the 2008 and 2014 farm bills instituted the sodsaver provision.
The legislation is strongly supported by conservation groups like the National Wildlife Federation.
“America’s prairies provide essential habitat for ducks, pheasants, raptors, songbirds and pollinators — yet we’ve lost more than 90 percent of original prairie acreage to the plow,” said Collin O’Mara, NWF’s president and CEO.
“This commonsense, bipartisan bill represents a concrete opportunity for this Congress to conserve one of America’s most iconic American landscapes and the wildlife species, ranching operations and sequestered soil carbon they support,” he added.
Richmond, VA, October 2, 2017 – If you think cattle and quail don’t mix, a new concept in managed grazing may just change your mind. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications for a unique program that focuses on establishing productive warm season forages to improve cattle production AND provide large acreages of prime habitat for ground nesting birds and other wildlife.
The Northern Bobwhite in Working Grasslands initiative offers technical and financial assistance to help eligible livestock producers implement various conservation practices to address habitat loss without taking their land out of production. Virginia will conduct targeted restoration activities throughout the state with a focus on the following counties: Augusta, Bland, Botetourt, Charlotte, Culpeper, Fauquier, Halifax, Madison, Orange, Pittsylvania, Rappahannock, Rockingham, and Wythe. Interested applicants are encouraged to sign up before October 20 to be eligible for fiscal year 2018 funding.
“This new program offers a ‘win-win’ for participating producers by enabling them to continue grazing on land with installed wildlife practices,” said Jack Bricker, Virginia State Conservationist. “By replacing fescue with native grasses, participants can also improve or maintain average daily weight gains, enhance soil health, and hedge against summer drought with fewer inputs.”
Northern bobwhite quail are a state-identified target species for the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, a collaborative approach to conserving habitat for declining species on farms and working forests. Our newest WLFW project is designed to help bring back the quail that were once an integral part of Virginia’s farming way of life. Leading researchers like Dr. Pat Keyser of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Native Grasslands Management have documented the wildlife benefits of managed grazing on native summer forages, concluding that this approach actually enhances the habitat for the ground nesting birds.
NRCS accepts applications on a continuous basis but makes funding selections at specific times. If funds are not fully obligated under the first signup period, the next deadline will be January 19. To learn more, please visit your local USDA service center or www.va.nrcs.usda.gov.
|Watch our new video to learn why Culpeper producer Carl Stafford is such a big believer in this new approach to managed grazing.|
(NBCI note: Bobwhites also benefit from native grass plantings on CRP.)
By Beverly Preston, USDA Farm Service Agency
North America is filled with people who appreciate birds. Many watch them, some hunt them for food and others just value their beauty and song. Wild birds of all types are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
That’s why it was so heartening to read in the just-released 2017 edition of the State of the Birds, produced yearly by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, that populations of wetland birds, forest birds and grassland birds are on the upswing, and it is due to a large part to voluntary USDA programs like the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
Take for example the prairie pothole region, which stretches from Iowa through the Dakotas and into Montana and Canada. Waterfowl enthusiasts call it “America’s duck factory.” According to the State of the Birds report, the number of waterfowl in the region has increased by 37 million in 20 years, and the annual economic impact from hunting and birdwatching is an estimated $430 million. That’s a real benefit to rural America and to the economic health of the people who live there.
Substantial benefits are evident elsewhere. For example, in Illinois, farm counties with the highest CRP sign up rates, spring bird counts for Henslow’s sparrows are now 25 times greater than before the program was instituted, and the grasslands the sparrows depend on provide $900 million in flood control, groundwater recharge and water purification services. In nearby Wisconsin and Michigan, grassland plots within crop landscapes doubled the number of grassland birds, and in doing so, increased the rates of predation of insect pest eggs by 30 percent.
‘State of the Birds 2017’ Identifies Benefits for Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation
(Washington, D.C., August 3, 2017) Thirty-seven million. That’s the increase in the number of waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region over the past quarter-century, thanks to the Farm Bill. The State of the Birds 2017: Farm Bill Special Report, released today by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), documents the many benefits the Farm Bill—America’s single largest source of conservation funding for private lands—has delivered to birds, farmers, and rural communities.
For more than three decades, the Farm Bill has been an effective tool for wildlife conservation, sustaining essential habitat for more than 100 bird species. For farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, the bill provides a safety net that helps keep working lands from being developed. As the 2018 Farm Bill is debated for reauthorization in Congress, the report calls attention to the benefits of investing in conservation on private lands, which make up nearly 70 percent of the land area in the contiguous United States.
“For more than twenty years, the Farm Bill has provided widespread conservation benefits for our nation’s farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and all who enjoy clean drinking water, flood protection and healthy wildlife populations,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “Millions of acres of working lands are conserved through Farm Bill conservation programs that ensure long-term sustainability and productivity of the land that supports waterfowl and many other species of fish and wildlife.”
It’s a striking record of success. Before 1990, for instance, wetland birds and waterfowl were on the decline, trending downward by 10 percent a year. Since wetland easements were added to the Farm Bill, those populations have soared 51 percent.
Grasslands and forest birds have benefited as well. “There’s no doubt that the Farm Bill’s conservation provisions have helped to stabilize populations of grassland birds, which had suffered a nearly 50 percent drop before grassland easements were introduced in 2003,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the report team leader. “Since that time, we’ve seen an encouraging 3 percent increase in numbers.” The report documents a similar turnaround in forest bird populations, which had dropped 19 percent before the Farm Bill’s Forestry Title was introduced in 1990.
State of the Birds is a regular report published by NABCI’s US Committee, a coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships. Scientists, government agencies, and bird conservation groups use the State of the Birds as a resource in decision-making about conservation research, policies, and programs. Last year, NABCI’s State of North America’s Birds Report found that more than one-third of North America’s bird species require urgent conservation action.
Farm Bill programs support many kinds of partnerships with private landowners. As documented in the 2017 report, that approach pays off in many ways. Here are a few examples of what the Farm Bill gets done:
- It keeps birds off the Endangered Species List. Voluntary, incentive-based habitat-restoration projects funded by the Farm Bill made it possible to avoid listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as endangered in 2015.
- It promotes public-private partnerships and supports restoration vital to forest birds. In the South, Farm Bill Forestry programs have increased longleaf pine forests by 50 percent, providing valuable habitat and keeping forests from being converted to other uses.
- It protects vital prairie grasslands and wetlands and sustains North American waterfowl. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 34 percent of all duck food energy comes from Farm Bill wetlands.
- It creates eco-benefits for the entire farm and delivers return on investment in clean water and birds. Farm Bill grasslands programs improve soil health and natural pest control, provide flood control and water purification, and recharge groundwater supplies.
State of the Birds 2017 also identifies four top conservation priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill, representing the unified voice of NABCI’s broad coalition:
- Increase funding for the voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that support farmers and ranchers financially while also supporting our natural infrastructure of grasslands and wetlands.
- Improve the impact of Farm Bill conservation programs on priority wildlife species, drawing on input from individual states.
- Enhance Farm Bill public-private partnerships. Partner biologist positions hold the key to matching landowners with conservation programs that best fit the landowners’ wildlife and land-use goals.
- Support the use of science, including monitoring and evaluation of Farm Bill conservation programs over time, to maximize the bill’s effectiveness and return on investment.
”Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, get on-the-ground work done for species of greatest concern such as Golden-winged Warbler and Northern Bobwhite,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at American Bird Conservancy. “The 2018 Farm Bill will hopefully build on this success by fully supporting these conservation programs.”
The U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is a coalition of 28 federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships that advance biological, social, and scientific priorities for North American bird conservation. American Bird Conservancy is a member of NABCI.