Northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), commonly called “Bobwhite Quail”, are native to Louisiana. Adult plumage varies from chestnut to gray with rich browns on the back and white to buff on the breast and belly. Males have a distinctive white mask and throat, whereas females have a buff mask and throat. Both sexes have a prominent black eye stripe.
In general, bobwhite are opportunistic granivores foraging on a wide variety of weed seeds and cultivated grains. During the breeding season bobwhite consume primarily seeds, fruits, green vegetation and hard mast. Invertebrates are an important source of protein for reproductively active females and are eaten almost exclusively by chicks during the first several weeks of life.
Quail nest in Louisiana from early May through September with most of the hatching occurring from June to August. Clutch size ranges from 12 to 15 eggs. After 23 days of incubation the chicks hatch and are totally flightless for about two weeks. At about six weeks of age the juveniles are fully feathered. At 16 weeks of age the young are considered full grown.
Nesting cover is one of the most crucial habitat components determining the success of nesting and hatching. Bobwhite nesting cover is characterized by moderately dense mixtures of grasses and broadleaf weeds with nearly bare ground around grass clumps. Periodic burning during late winter or early spring every two to three years maintains herbaceous plants in the proper stage for nesting.
Brood-rearing cover provides protection for chicks during feeding and contains insect-rich mixtures of annual legumes and forbs along with bare ground for ease of movement. Good brood habitat is found in fallow fields that are growing annual weeds, particularly ragweed and partridge pea. Brood habitat can be maintained in these fields by disking or mowing annually during fall to early spring and allowing them to become fallow during summer.
Roosting cover is composed of grasslands with vegetation approximately 2 feet high with scattered hardwood sprouts.
Escape cover consists of shrubby or woody areas like brushy fencerows or field dividers. In most areas sufficient escape cover may be developed simply by protecting areas from disturbances, such as fire, disking, mowing, and overgrazing. Such escape areas should be set back by fire, disking, mowing, or grazing every 3 to 5 years to prevent them from becoming too open for quail cover.
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Bobwhite are rapid flyers for short distances, flying 28-38 miles/hr. Although rapid flyers, they prefer to walk and typically fly only when threatened or when flying to roosting locations.
Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey show bobwhite quail populations in Louisiana have declined by about 75% since 1966. The Department's fall surveys also illustrate a general downward trend. This is due primarily to habitat degradation. Clean farming techniques in the agricultural regions of the state have all but eliminated quail from these areas. Intensive pine management that features short-rotation densely stocked monoculture pine stands and infrequent prescribed burning has reduced quail populations in the forested upland regions of Louisiana. In addition, a number of unusually dry summers in recent years has resulted in poor reproduction and exacerbated the effects of habitat degradation. However, much of the habitat loss occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. As a consequence, in recent years the population indices have been more stable and influenced primarily by summer weather conditions.
In an effort to address long-term population declines in bobwhite quail and other birds dependent on grassland habitat, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has joined 25 other National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) member states to support the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) to help restore bobwhite quail to their former range. The NBCI was established by the member states to work fulltime at the state and national level to address landscape scale challenges limiting bobwhite quail. To this end, a unified bobwhite quail restoration strategy named “NBCI 2.0” has been established. The following NBCI information is available for use by state, federal, and private land managers:
Since 1967, Louisiana's bobwhite quail populations have declined by approximately 75%. Louisiana is not the only state where bobwhites have declined precipitously. Bobwhite populations across the southeastern U.S. have declined by about 60%. This downward trend is not limited to bobwhite quail. Other species that require similar habitat such as eastern meadowlark and loggerhead shrike have also exhibited significant population declines.
There are a variety of programs available through federal and state agencies that provide technical and financial assistance to landowners willing to implement practices beneficial to quail and grassland birds. LDWF is involved in efforts to inform landowners and promote participation in these conservation programs.
Reversing the downward trend in quail and grassland bird populations will not happen overnight. This is a long-term venture that will require the commitment and cooperation of numerous organizations, agencies, and most importantly, individual landowners. Agencies, organizations and landowners will have to work together in a coordinated effort to restore the ecosystems and habitat that are home to bobwhite quail and many other species.
LDWF and its partners are engaged in a number of projects that are directed at restoring the type of habitat required by quail.
- The West Gulf Coastal Plain Prescribed Burning Initiative and East Gulf Coastal Plain Prescribed Burning Initiatives – These projects fund 1 prescribed burn for private landowners with suitable habitat. The goal is to familiarize the landowners with the benefits of prescribed burning and work with landowners to conduct subsequent prescribed burns. Over 13,000 acres have been burned across Louisiana through these initiatives since they began in 2008.
- Through the Technical Services Program, LDWF provides assistance to landowners seeking to manage and improve habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife.
- Working with partners, LDWF is engaged in regional efforts to improve habitat used by quail and other wildlife. This includes the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture, East Gulf Coast Joint Venture, TX/LA Longleaf Taskforce, and West Louisiana Ecosystem Partnership.
- In conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service the department is working to establish a bobwhite focus area on the Kisatchie National Forest. This area will be subject to practices specifically designed to improve bobwhite habitat. Surveys will be conducted to monitor population response.
- The U.S. Forest Service working with the LDWF, has established a bird dog training area on the Vernon Unit of Kisatchie National Forest. This adds to current BDTAs on Sandy Hollow WMA, Bodcau WMA, Lake Ramsay WMA, and Sherburne WMA.
- LDWF has entered an agreement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide technical assistance to landowners interested in creating and managing quail friendly habitat in longleaf pine habitats.
- LDWF periodically conducts landowner workshops on a variety of topics, including management practices that favor bobwhites and other grassland birds.
- LDWF makes available specialized native grassland drills and burn trailers to landowners to aid them in their efforts to improve bobwhite habitat.
- LDWF prescribed burns approximately 2,000 acres each year on the Sandy Hollow and Lake Ramsay WMAs to improve bobwhite habitat.
- LDWF is working with the Louisiana Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation to conduct several thousand acres of additional prescribed burns on other WMAs to enhance wild turkey and quail habitat.
A statewide quail population survey (see documents section below) is conducted each fall. This survey is used to develop an index to the quail population for various habitat regions throughout Louisiana. Approximately forty 19-mile routes are run throughout the state in late October and early November. The routes are randomly located in 5 major habitat types.
To help determine bobwhite quail survival rates, harvest rates, nesting success, habitat use and movements, 178 bobwhites were radio-tagged and 245 were banded over several years on the Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area. Findings include:
- Only 6.4% of bobwhites survive over 1 year. Most of the mortality was due to predators, both avian and mammalian.
- Overall, less than 1 in 12 birds were taken by hunters and hunters harvested birds from less than 1/3 of the coveys. However, when a covey was found, about 1 in 5 birds were bagged. Both harvest rates (with crippling loss also considered) are within the recommended 30% value for the South.
- Quail move considerable distances in the fall and spring. One covey moved over 3 miles and movements of 1 mile were common.
As a response to interest in releasing pen-reared bobwhites for population enhancement by some users of the Sandy Hollow WMA and quail hunters in general, 33 pen-reared female bobwhites were radio-tagged and released in groups on the area in good habitat and provided supplemental food and water. Within 3 days, 52% of the birds were dead and by the 12th day, 84% had died. Within 2 weeks, 97% of the birds were dead. Most of the mortality was due to predation. This study affirms the general principal that most pen-reared quail fare poorly when released into the wild. The potential problems caused by pen-reared introductions, such as disease introduction, outweigh the marginal benefits.
From 1984-2000, almost 8,500 wings were collected from hunters to determine production indices for quail and peak hatch periods. Average chicks per adult hen was relatively high (greater than 6), but it varied greatly between years due to weather. Quail wings (see documents section) highlight the importance of July and August to quail production in Louisiana.
National Farm Policy often shape quail and other farm wildlife habitat. Many Farm Bill issues are currently being considered in Washington. The Wildlife Society maintains a website with up-to-date Farm Bill issues. Other bobwhite information can be obtained at the NBCI website www.bringbackbobwhites.org.
Resident Small Game Program
The Resident Small Game Program involves management, research and population monitoring activities for bobwhite quail, rabbits, and squirrels. Personnel also develop and participate in the wild turkey research conducted by the Department. Jimmy Stafford, Resident Small Game and Wild Turkey Program Leader, coordinates the Resident Small Game Program.
In order to meet public demands for resident small game, the Resident Small Game Program and Technical Services Program offer technical assistance to improve habitat on public and private lands (http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/assistance-private-landowners-and-m). Program biologists also conduct research to assess and improve management. Several population monitoring surveys are conducted by regional and program biologists to develop population indices and track population trends of small game species. Personnel also represent the Department on various committees which are involved in monitoring and formulating regional and national programs which may have impacts on small game wildlife.