Restoring a species: The Bobwhite Quail (Keeping the Farm)
(Editor’s note: Genevieve Lister is a state public affairs officer with NRCS- Maryland.)
The northern bobwhite, or what many of us call quail, has seen its population dip by more than 80 percent over the last 60 years.
A favorite gamebird throughout the eastern United States, bobwhites have long been welcomed on farms and rural landscapes with their infamous call of “bob-white!” Bobwhites are an “edge” species, meaning they seek brushy habitat where crop fields intersect with woodlands, pastures, and old fields.
But this type of habitat is now tough to find.
Loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat on a continental scale has largely silenced its iconic call in Maryland and across rural America.
Private, working lands are essential to the bird’s recovery. Bobwhites depend on early successional habitat that includes field borders, grasslands, shrubby areas, and fallow fields. These habitats have the seeds, legumes and insects that bobwhite need for food and brood rearing, and native grasses and brushy cover for nesting and protection.
The northern bobwhite quail is a nationally identified target species of the Working Lands for Wildlife initiative, which provides technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to restore their habitat.
The WLFW initiative combats the decline of wildlife species where it can be reversed and the recovery benefits other species with similar habitat needs.
The quail’s well-being indicates the fate of other at-risk and endangered species. Habitat restored for the bobwhite benefits many other species, including turkeys, deer, rabbits and many different songbirds.
Conservation practices like planting wildflowers and native shrubs can further enhance a property’s value to pollinators and other wildlife. Greater plant and wildlife diversity on agricultural lands can reduce issues with common agricultural pests, improve pollination of crops and increase hunting opportunities.
To help reverse bobwhite declines, NRCS is working with private landowners in Maryland to establish field borders, hedgerows, and shrubby cover, and replace non-native grasses with native grasses, forbs and legumes that benefit bobwhite and other wildlife.
Assistance is available to landowners in Queen Anne’s, Kent, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties to increase conservation efforts and share the cost of conservation practices.
Technical assistance is free to producers. The agency’s staff of experts and conservation partners work side-by-side with producers to develop a conservation plan. Each plan focuses on bobwhite habitat management and is tailored to the landowner’s property.
These plans provide a roadmap for how to use a system of conservation practices to meet natural resource and production goals.
Types of activities include:
• Establish habitats consisting of native forbs, grasses, and shrubs on crop fields and associated lands;
• Convert areas of non-native herbaceous vegetation, such as pastures, buffers, and field borders, to native herbaceous plant communities;
• Conduct thinning and selective harvest or removal of trees at the interface of woodlands and agricultural lands;
• Remove and control invasive species to maintain or facilitate the establishment of native vegetative communities;
• Implement early successional habitat management activities such as disking, mowing, prescribed burning, and fallowing to enhance plant diversity and provide resources for foraging and brood-rearing; and
• Financial assistance helps producers pay for the adoption of conservation systems that improve early successional habitat, which benefits game and non-game species and can benefit grazing and forestry operations.
Producers and landowners can enroll in WLFW on a continuous basis at their local NRCS office. Landowners in Queen Anne’s, Kent, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties should contact Daniel Lawson at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. To learn more about NRCS in Maryland, visit www.md.nrcs.usda.gov.