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John's Journal... Entry 67, Day 1

click to enlargeWhere Have All the Wild Quail Gone

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Bill Palmer, the Balfour Game Management Resource Fellow at Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida, received his Phd in zoology from North Carolina State University. He has studied the bobwhite quail, its decline and the steps needed to bring quail back for much of his life. Tall Timbers Research Station, a non-profit research-education station established in 958 on part of a quail plantation once owned by and now endowed by the Henry Beadel family, studies the use of prescribed fires and other techniques to manage wildlife in the Southeast. Located right in the middle of a major quail plantation in the Thomasville, Georgia, Jacksonville, Florida area, the station has a land mass of approximately 4,000 acres in Georgia for research purposes. Here Dr. Palmer answers many of the questions that quail hunters ask.

QUESTION: What has caused the bobwhite quail to decline?
DR. PALMER: The primary factor in the Southeast has been habitat change due to the lack of fires, changes of management on farm fields and the closing-up of forest canopies, which has resulted in a reduction of ground cover. Quail depend on a mixture of grasses, weeds and shrubs in their habitat for nesting, breeding and feeding.

click to enlargeQUESTION: Why has there been a reduction of fire in the forest?
DR. PALMER: In the early days, landowners burned their lands as part of their annual land-management practices to control vermin, to create more forage for cattle and to eliminate insects -- just to name a few reasons. Social, political and liability issues also caused the decrease of use of fire in the woods. But today both the states of Georgia and Florida have passed legislation to provide for a landowner's right to burn his land.

QUESTION: How does fire benefit quail?
DR. PALMER: Fire makes the upland pine habitat more suitable for quail by helping to control hardwood encroachment and also refreshes the ground cover so that it produces more grasses and weeds, which are beneficial for quail. Currently in the South, we have either very intensive use of the land or little or no use of the land. For survival quail populations depend on land usage changes -- the early successional species of grasses and shrubs. After the woods have been burned, clear-cut or harrowed-up for a food plot or a crop, that land produces the weeds, grasses and shrubs that quail need for survival. While not all farming practices are harmful to quail, large-tract farming, double-cropping and the use of herbicides reduce the quality of the habitat for quail. Just as importantly, the once open woodlots that received sunlight and were burned every year or two to reduce weeds on the ground, no longer receive any kind of land manipulation. For the most part, pines are planted and allowed to grow until they're harvested. Wildfires are put out immediately. Without a prescribed burning program, the wildfires are much more severe than they are if the land is burned every two years. Super-intensive forest management and no-forest management are equally bad for quail.

click to enlargeQUESTION: What's the best way to bring back quail in the South?
DR. PALMER: Because there are so many varied land types, almost every piece of property needs an individual prescription for bringing back the quail on that particular land. But in an agricultural context where the landowner still grows cotton, peanuts and corn each year, by simply leaving 3 to 7 percent of the farm fields, especially along the edges that tend to be non-productive, in a 1- or 2- or even 3-year growth of weeds, the landowner can produce a noticeable change in the amount of quail he has on those farmlands.

Too, a landowner who manages his or her lands for agriculture as well as timber can make a significant positive change in the numbers of quail on that land by leaving the weed growth on the edges of the fields. If you don't plant agricultural crops but do plant greenfields in natural wildlife openings, you still can greatly improve the habitat for quail. Leave the edges of your greenfields and wildlife openings in weeds for 2 to 3 years before you plow those edges again.

click to enlargeOne of the best things you can do for quail if you're planting small grain or clover for deer and turkey in greenfields is instead of plowing that greenfield in the spring and planting a summer crop for wildlife, let the ground go fallow and the weeds continue to grow throughout the spring and summer. Then come back in the fall and re-plant your greenfield. But don't plant the first three to five rows in your greenfield in anything, and instead let that area grow up in weeds. If you feel like you have to plant a crop in the spring, only plant half of your field, and allow the other half to go fallow until the fall. The weeds in your greenfield will provide food and cover for quail during the summer months. Remember that quail need a mixture of grasses, forbs and shrubs for their survival. By the time you're ready to plant your greenfield in the fall, the young quail will be big enough to survive on their own.

Tomorrow: Foshalee Plantation's Solution to Declining Quail Populations




Check back each day this week for more about Improving Your Quail Hunting ...

Day 1 -Where Have All the Wild Quail Gone
Day 2 -Foshalee Plantation's Solution to Declining Quail Populations
Day 3 -What Quail Need and How to Give It to Them
Day 4 -Other Ways to Have More Quail
Day 5 -Other Places to Learn About Quail Management Programs

John's Journal