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Silence of the Quail

South Boston News / August 04, 2014
Many hunters recognize the distinctive summer sound of the bobwhite quail — two short bursts followed by a long whistle. However, decades of land-use practices, disease, weather patterns, and possible effects of insecticides may have silenced the call in many areas.

“Back when I was a teenager, I would go out and hunt quail, and you could hear the bobwhite quail during the summer months,” said Jay Jeffreys with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

“That’s a rarity any more in Virginia.”

In July, the Virginia Department of Forestry and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announced a cost-sharing funding program for private, non-industrial forest landowners in 15 counties, including Halifax County as part of Virginia’s Quail Recovery Initiative. “The landowner has to have the interest in quail and grassland birds,” Jeffreys said.

A landowner interested in the program will have a biologist from Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute visit the individual’s property to help instill five practices to create good habitat for the species.

“The five eligible practices include: vegetation management; commercial thinning in small acreage stands; planting of shortleaf or longleaf pine; noncommercial thinning, and prescribed burning in forest stands. Landowners can receive up to $10,000 in cost-share funding,” according to press release.

Quail, a non-migratory, indigenous species, is on rapid decline in Virginia and throughout the Southeastern United States. In fact, according to the North American Breeding Survey, the range-wide population has declined 66 percent since 1980.

To reverse the trend, state and federal agencies, in collaboration with private organizations, are working with landowners to create appropriate habitats for the bobwhite quail and other grassland species, such as Henslow’s sparrow and other birds to thrive again.

Jeffreys explained that bobwhite quail thrives in open lands with woodland edges for nesting and hiding from predators.

The conservation recovery initiative for bobwhite quail, which also benefits other grassland birds, actually began over 15 years ago, explained Jeffreys. The most current effort of the quail recovery program has entered into its fifth year. The program targets six geographical areas within Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

“Halifax [County] stands alone in its SWCD,” he said.

“Much of our farming practices throughout Virginia are no longer conducive to what quail and grassland birds need,” Jeffreys said. “The primary difference with quail compared to other grassland birds, quail is not migratory so its range is small.”

The Virginia Quail Council held a Quail Field Day in Halifax County at the end of September 2013, according to the Virginia Quail Recovery Initiative’s fall bulletin. The tour focused on how creating a wildlife habitat is actually beneficial to agriculture.

The tour visited local farms such as Hudson Reese’s property, Bill Hetzel’s property, and the Graves brothers’ property to see first-hand the practices at work.

Reese, who grows produce, explained that the field edges “are a mixture of native warm seasons grasses, with legumes like partridge pea mixed in.” Some of the field edges were a natural process while other edges were added by Reese; both provide the necessary cover quail need from predators.

He also has added in other farming practices to help the quail population increase. As reported, “Reese emphasized to the crowd that we should ‘farm ugly,’ and the quail will make a comeback.”

The tour also viewed other practices and the riparian buffers on Hetzel property, which provides natural cover and nesting habitat for covey of quail, according to the report. The Graves’ brothers, who attended the Prescribed Fire Manager Training offered by the Department of Forestry, used prescribed fire on their property.

“There is a great deal of interest in wildlife among private landowners,” Jeffreys said. “The major benefit is that it raises the public’s awareness to wildlife conservation, to keep what we have, and the restoration of what we once had.”

Local landowners who are interested in creating a good habitat for the bobwhite quail should contact their local National Resources Conservation Service office, a federal agency that operates under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture, or contact the local VDF at or VDGIF at The NRCS in Halifax County can be reached at (434) 476-6558.

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Heard bobwhites in southwestern county earlier this summer after not hearing them for over three years. Before then, it had been a good ten years since I'd heard their calls. Would be great to hear them regularly again! My mama could call them up about anytime.

I also remember quail suppers as a kid, when I'd hunt the quail and dress them, but the grown folks ate the quail while me and cousin I hunted with had to eat a dadburn hot dog!

Glad to hear the Reeses and Graves are trying to bring them back. Both families are excellent stewards of their land.

And then our beautiful bobwhites nearly disappeared...

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