The male Northern bobwhite quail’s (Colinus virginianus) distinctive mating call—which sounds like “bob-white” to the human ear—is something very few people get to hear anymore. The prized gamebird’s whistle used to fill the air across 38 states and was a common herald of spring in rural Virginia.
But today, modern clean-farming techniques, urban and suburban land usage, houses and strip malls have eliminated much of the habitat upland birds require in the Commonwealth. In many areas, these once plentiful birds have been reduced to isolated pockets and are rarely seen or heard.
Data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) estimates the number of quail hunters here has dropped by 90 percent since 1966. In 1973, more than 1.2 million bobwhite quail were harvested in Virginia by 143,000 quail hunters. Last year’s annual figures totaled 12,000 harvested by 8,000 hunters.
Limited lumbering, controlled burns, herbicides and other habitat-creating measures are helping the situation. But the promise of restoring healthy quail and other upland bird habitats depends on the involvement of government, non-profits, private landowners and game preserves.
Virginia’s Quail Recovery Initiative (QRI) was started in 2009 to restore bobwhite quail populations to their native range. The partnership involves the VDGIF, the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
QRI’s mission is to educate the public on the importance of quality, early successional habitat for quail and other wildlife species. The QRI also provides technical assistance to landowners interested in creating or maintaining early healthy habitat on their properties; it also helps implement financial assistance programs aimed at benefitting wildlife.
Jimmy Hazel has been on many statewide boards and chaired several of them. These included the VDGIF, where he served for 10 years and chaired for three.
“The board-level decision to approve the Virginia Quail Initiative marked the first time in 20 or 30 years that the agency allocated serious resources to protect the bobwhite quail,” said Hazel. “For years, VDGIF did so much for the whitetail deer population. We felt it was time to address the declining quail population. Conservationists are on the ground, meeting and speaking with people in a broader conversation about habitat so landowners can make a difference.”
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