The Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) is a 22 state plan document created in 2002 by The Southeast Quail Study Group (SEQSG), under direction of the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (now being updated and expanded to include all 35 states that were once included in the historic range of the bobwhite quail). The NBCI is the first ever landscape-scale habitat restoration & population recovery plan for quail, and was prepared by biologists to meet the conservation and management needs of the northern bobwhite. Designed to work in collaboration with other species management plans such as Partners in Flight's North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the NBCI provides a blueprint for the recovery of one of the Nation's most cherished gamebirds. It allows for integration of bobwhite habitat restoration efforts with those for songbirds and other wildlife that reside in shared habitats.
Bobwhites were once very abundant across farms and forestlands from the Midwest and Southwest to the deep South. Today bobwhites, along with many other grassland/shrub songbird species, are in serious decline. Populations have been declining since the early 1900's, but the decline has become much more precipitous since the 1960's (see figure 1 below). Population losses over the past 25 years range from 60 to 90 percent in many of the states in the bobwhite range. For example, in Georgia, over 4 million wild quail annually were harvested in the early 1960's, yet today barely 400,000 are harvested—and only a small portion of those are wild birds.
There are many reasons for the decline of bobwhites and the other species that associate with them. Land use changes that converted native grasslands to exotic grasses, closed canopy woodlands, intensive agriculture, monoculture forestry, and urban development have all contributed to quail losses. Bobwhites depend on habitats disturbed frequently by prescribed fire, timber thinning, rotational disking and planting. They need bare or nearly bare conditions at ground level (under a canopy of mixed grass and broadleaved vegetation) to facilitate movement of coveys and feeding (particularly by broods). Practices like those mentioned above can be used to create and maintain the diversity of native grasses, forbs and shrubs, and plant structure that bobwhites and many other wildlife species require. Habitat that benefits quail provides cover for other birds, as well. Bell's Vireo, the Loggerhead Shrike, Grasshopper Sparrows, Orchard Orioles, Dickcissels, Painted Buntings, and many small mammals are assisted by quail habitat restoration and management.
The NBCI plan sets habitat and population recovery goals for bobwhite that could restore populations to 1980 levels. Successfully implementing the NBCI requires creating about 3 million coveys on 5.7 million acres in the bobwhite range. While this will be no small feat, the land targeted includes just 7% of agricultural and forestlands (about 81 million acres) in that area. This landscape-scale habitat restoration suggested by the NBCI must be initiated at the local level and is a perfect fit for Quail Forever's grassroots model of operations.
Collaboration between the SEQSG and USDA's Farm Service Agency, the NBCI, and support from groups like Pheasants Forever led to the recent development of Continuous CRP practice CP33--Habitat Buffers For Upland Birds. This practice allocates 250,000 CRP acres across 35 bobwhite range states to establish native grass field buffers from 30 feet to 120 feet in width around the perimeter of crop fields. These buffers provide nesting, brood-rearing habitat, and escape cover for bobwhites.
Much remains to be done. Quail Forever is addressing the needs of bobwhites and other wildlife through our network of grassroots chapters that raise funds via banquets and other means, and retain 100% of those funds for their local habitat efforts. But, we need more help. Do your part and join the fight today. Become a member of Quail Forever...or better yet, start a new chapter in your area. For information call Quail Forever toll free at (866) 45QUAIL (457-8245).
Another collaboration group is the The National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC), their website can be found at: www.bobwhitetech.org.