The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission is seeking private land owners to create habitat for quail in hopes of reversing, or at least stemming a rapid decline in the number of the birds in the state.
Marcus Asher, a quail biologist with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission addressed the Booneville Rotary Club last week about the cause of the shrinking population of Bobwhite quail and what can be done to help.
Asher was hired to work exclusively with the strategy to restore the number of the birds.
There are multiple factors attributed to the decline, Asher said, including weather, perdation, parasites, disease, fire ants, chemicals, turkeys, deer, or even fertilizer, but Asher says those are all secondary.
“I’m not going to argue these things don’t have an effect on it, but if you just had an issue with (one) you would see areas that have good population,” said Asher. “These are things that affect local. We have a range wide (issue), from all the way up in the northeast all the way to the west.”
“Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas still have decent population numbers but they are declining and it’s because of habitat loss.”
Good quail habitat, Asher said, is not appealing to most people.
“It’s not freshly disturbed soil, very uniform, or a mature forest. Those two areas look very good in the eyes of a human rather than a grown up, shrubby cover grass and broad leaf grasses,” said Asher.
Within a quail habitat the birds need nesting cover, brood cover and escape cover, Asher said, the later of which is the most unappealing because it is essentially brushy, though that portion needs to be only about 20 percent of a habitat area.
“It doesn’t need to be separate, but all together in one field basically. Escape cover you have the grasses in which quail will put their nest in, and you have broad leaf, weedy type of areas where quail can bring their broods to collect insects,” said Asher. “Brooding cover is basically weedy field, or pollinators whether it’s golden rod, black-eyed Susan, milkweed, all of those things increase the amount and diversity of insects and the more insects we have the healthier our quail are going to be. And also those plants produce seeds.”
The birds have a varied diet including wheat seeds such as ragweed, polkweed, blackberry and insects, which are crucial in the early stages of the life.
“There’s a whole fleet of things they feed on,” said Asher. “It’s not just a few things. Several research articles have documented over 500 seeds and things like that that are in their diet. That’s typically not a lacking component.”
In fall and winter months the birds congregate in coveys for both protection and thermal value. In late March or early April the birds pair followed by a nesting period until September although the period of June to October broods move around seeking insects for chicks and there is an opportunity for re-nesting before they return to coveys.
The re-nesting period is essential, Asher said, because the overall survival rate of the birds is only 20 to 30 percent and because initial success ranges only from 45 to 75 percent.
“That why it’s so critical we have nesting and brooding habitat,” said Asher.
Also necessary is maintenance of the habitat area to include perscribed burning, discing, spraying and or grazing.
There are also multiple programs, both federal and state operated which will pay landowners to create and maintain habitat, Asher said.
The Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center will host a special workshop on northern bobwhite habitat from 6 to 8 p.m., tonight, Oct. 24.
Thanks to new initiatives under the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, many programs are available to provide landowners with tools to increase wildlife habitat on their properties without taking them out of production for agriculture or other land uses.
Combined with other Farm Bill programs, these can help offset costs of putting critical wildlife habitat back on the ground to help support the comeback of the northern bobwhite.
In addition to the overview of cost-share opportunities for landowners, presenters at the scheduled workshops will cover basic quail biology and habitat management as well as an update on the AGFC’s quail habitat programs on public land.
Dinner will be provided at the workshops for landowners who register in advance. Call Bob Scott with Quail Forever to register 479-495-2441 for the workshop.