Texas is home to four quail species. The Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) is the most well-known and most common species. Bobwhites get their name from a distinctive whistling call, “poor Bob-WHITE,” produced by roosters during the breeding season. Their color pattern is primarily black, brown, and white. Bobwhites are social, and remain with a covey of six to 25 other birds for the duration of their lives. They prefer to stay on the ground, but may fly short distances if disturbed. Their nesting season is heavily affected by weather. “If it rains, you’ll have quail; if it don’t, you won’t.”
The Northern Bobwhite is seed-eating, and prefers seeds found on forbs and grasses. They eat green vegetation, seeds and fruit from shrubs, and insects. The average lifespan of a bobwhite is six months, and they may survive up to five years under ideal conditions in the wild.
However, there has been an alarming decline of quail in Texas. Since 1980, bobwhite populations have declined at a rate of about 5.6 percent each year. Habitat loss is one of the top concerns. Pasture conversion, poor grazing management, and predation by small mammals and avian predators are other contributing factors. Weather variables and disease directly affect the survivability of quail as well. Small, isolated quail populations are unable to withstand long-term threats.
LLELA has been instrumental in conservation efforts and habitat restoration efforts for bobwhite quail and other obligate native grassland species. The native grasses and forbs, as well as a mosaic of wooded areas provide cover and preferred habitat for bobwhites. There has been an annual release of color-banded adult birds since 2012. Both graduate and undergraduate UNT students have conducted research on the released birds. The quail are pen-raised by breeders, transferred to LLELA, and then held onsite for acclimation in a large pen protected with double-netting and an electrified fence before release into the wild. In 2018 and 2019 there were over 100 birds released annually into five locations, each group color-banded with different colored bands and tracked by UNT students to gain insight into habitat preferences and movements. The initial goal of the project is having enough quail survive predation and adverse environmental conditions to breed. The ultimate goal is to have the progeny of those birds nesting and producing “wild” quail. In 2020, a team of Elm Fork Chapter Texas Master Naturalists raised the bobwhites from eggs, and these quail will be released onto the prairie in the summer. Additional adult birds will be released in succession from June through August.
With the introduction of quail onto the prairie at LLELA, we are creating a meta population (a group of spatially separated populations of the same species which interact at some level). We hope that by continuing to release quail and providing the appropriate habitat, they will thrive to create additional generations of bobwhites.