6 cool facts about northern bobwhite quail
Northern bobwhite quail were once staple gamebirds for Midwestern settlers, but changes in the Midwestern landscape threatened their populations throughout the 1900s. Read on to see how they're doing today and get more closely acquainted with Iowa's only quail: the bobwhite.
Bobwhites were not terribly prevalent before pioneer settlement, as they preferred disturbed habitats like recently burned grassland and weedy forest edges. However, as row crops were introduced to the Midwest, the land's regular disturbance and the new abundance of food led to enormous population booms. Bobwhite quail became a staple food source for early Midwesterners, along with prairie chickens and passenger pigeons. Bobwhites remain the primary game bird in southern states with no ring-necked pheasants.
However, the industrialization of the landscape in the last century led to greatly reduced habitat, including tighter crop rows with fewer insects and urban development, and bobwhite populations plummeted. Today, conservation efforts and habitat restorations across the Midwest have quail numbers starting to recover, and their future growth will continue to depend on the space we manage for them.
Bobwhites generally like less dense cover than pheasants. These barrel-chested quail start life as bumblebee-sized chicks, and bare ground is easier for their tiny legs to navigate. As they grow, mixed grasses and thorny thickets provide optimal hiding spots for nests and adult groups called coveys. Pheasants have larger babies and a less social nature, so they can stick to areas with denser cover, like cattails.
Bunches of Babies
Bobwhite quail can repopulate an area quickly because hens have an average of twelve eggs per clutch, and it's not uncommon for hens to raise two or three broods in the same breeding season. Some hens do this by mating with a male, laying their clutch and leaving it for him to incubate while they move on to other mates, and others simply lay another clutch after the last has hatched. When the chicks emerge, they are fully feathered and ready to move, but they're still easy prey for a wide range of predators, including chipmunks, moles, raccoons, opossums, domestic cats, foxes and raptors. To protect their young, the chicks' parents may feign injury, such as a broken wing, to such lure predators away. But after one or two short weeks of parental help, the baby bobwhites must forage and survive on their own.
Weather or Not, They Survive
Unfortunately, ground-dwelling birds like quail are particularly susceptible to declines during years of drought, when there is little food, and years of heavy flooding, which can reduce available habitat and wash away young. Their populations also suffer during harsh winters, which make it difficult for groups of adult coveys to find enough food. Still, these birds are short-lived and prolific by nature (the average lifespan of a bobwhite is only six months) and the birds that do survive are likely some of the smartest animals. These can repopulate available habitat quickly (as mentioned above), and a bad season or two is not likely to eliminate entire populations.
After breeding season, bobwhites congregate in extremely large groups, which then break up to form coveys of eight to 20 birds. These are the groups the bobwhites will stay in all winter, and this social reorganization is called a fall shuffle. The shuffle prevents different groups from becoming isolated and inbred. Individuals in a covey rely on each other for body heat and safety until the following spring. To detect threats quickly, the covey forms an outward-facing circle when resting to see a threat from any side. In early spring the coveys break up into territorial mating pairs again, and you can hear the males' characteristic "bob-WHITE" call.
Hunting for Habitat
In Iowa, some of the best bobwhite habitat is managed and improved through the DNR's Iowa Habitat Access Program, which allows landowners to receive assistance for creating wildlife habitat in exchange for allowing the pubic to hunt there. Most of the areas managed for bobwhites specifically are in the southern three tiers of Iowa counties. Thanks to this management and recent mild winters, this last year's bobwhite harvest was 165 percent greater than the 2014 harvest.
MDC offers women and youth pheasant hunting clinic Feb. 16
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is offering the opportunity for women and youth to discover upland gamebird hunting at the Youth and Women Pheasant Hunt. The program will introduce new hunters to the sport with the emphasis on ring-necked pheasants.
The program begins with a classroom clinic at the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area classroom adjacent to the visitor center on Thursday, Feb. 16 from 6-8 p.m. Participants will then take to the field for the hunt itself, hosted at the Missouri Gun and Quail Club located in Wright City. The youth hunt will occur on Saturday, Feb. 25, and the women hunt on Saturday, March 4.
"The clinic will cover some biology, firearm handling, and how to clean the birds. We'll even give participants some recipes to help them prepare the pheasants for eating," said Bryant Hertel, MDC Busch Outdoor Education Center manager. He also added that the hunt itself would be a great way for first-timers to sample the sport of upland bird hunting.
The hunt is open to youth age 11-15 and women age 15 and up. All participants must be Hunter Education certified and have not attended the program in the past. The guided hunt is for first-time participants only. Participants must also attend the clinic to attend the hunt, and should have some familiarity with shotgun handling.
"This is an excellent chance for women and youth who want to get introduced to hunting to do it in a supportive, safe and controlled environment," Hertel said.
The clinic and hunt are both free. However, advanced registration is required by calling 636-441-4554. The August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area is located at 2360 Highway D, approximately two miles west of Highway 94 in St. Charles. For more information on upcoming events in the St. Louis area, go online at mdc.mo.gov.
Nebraskans to be surveyed on upland game shooting hours
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is surveying hunters and other interested parties about their views and preferences as part of an evaluation of upland game shooting hours.
To take the survey, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov/shootinghourssurvey. In addition, anyone who purchased a hunting (small game) license in 2016 and did not receive an invitation to participate in the annual hunter success survey can access it at OutdoorNebraska.gov/huntersuccesssurvey.
Shooting hours are the time of day when legal hunting can start and by which time hunting must end during the hunting season. Upland game includes species such as pheasant, quail, prairie chicken, sharp-tailed grouse, dove, rail, snipe, woodcock, partridge, cottontail and squirrel. Wild turkey and waterfowl are not included.
Spring Light Goose Season
North Dakota's spring light goose season opens Feb. 18 and continues through May 14.
Residents must have a valid current season 2016-17 (valid through March 31) or 2017-18 (required April 1) combination license; or a small game, and general game and habitat license. The 2017-18 license is available for purchase beginning March 15.
Nonresidents need a 2017 spring light goose season license. The cost is $50 and the license is good statewide. Nonresidents who hunt the spring season remain eligible to buy a fall season license. The spring season does not count against the 14-day fall waterfowl hunting season regulation.
In addition, nonresident youth under age 16 can purchase a license at the resident fee if their state has youth reciprocity licensing with North Dakota.
A federal duck stamp is not required for either residents or nonresidents.
Resident and nonresident licenses are available online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov, by calling 800-406-6409, and at license vendors.
Availability of food and open water dictate when snow geese arrive in the state. Early migrants generally start showing up in the southeast part of the state in mid-to-late March, but huntable numbers usually aren't around until the end of March or early April. Movements into and through the state will depend on available roosting areas and the extent of the snow line.
Hunters must obtain a new Harvest Information Program registration number before hunting. The HIP number can be obtained online or by calling 888-634-4798. The HIP number is good for the fall season as well, so spring hunters should save it to record on their fall license.
The Game and Fish Department will provide hunters with migration updates once geese have entered the state. Hunters can access the department's website, or call 701-328-3697, to receive generalized locations of bird sightings in North Dakota until the season ends or geese have left the state. Migration reports will be updated periodically during the week.
The spring season is only open to light geese – snows, blues, and Ross's. Species identification is important because white-fronted and Canada geese travel with light geese. The season is closed to whitefronts, Canada geese, swans and all other migratory birds.
Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. There is no daily bag limit or possession limit. Electronic and recorded calls, as well as shotguns capable of holding more than three shells, may be used to take light geese during this season.
There are no waterfowl rest areas designated for the spring season. Hunters should note that private land within waterfowl rest areas closed last fall may be posted closed to hunting.
Nontoxic shot is required for hunting all light geese statewide. Driving off established roads and trails is strongly discouraged during this hunt because of the likelihood of soft, muddy conditions, and winter wheat that is planted across the state. Sprouted winter wheat is considered an unharvested crop. Therefore, hunting or off-road travel in winter wheat is not legal without landowner permission.
To maintain good landowner relations, hunters are advised to seek permission before hunting on private lands or attempting any off-road travel during this season.
All regular hunting season regulations not addressed above apply to the spring season. For more information on regulations refer to the 2017 Spring Light Goose Hunting Regulations and the 2016 North Dakota Waterfowl Hunting Guide.
Tentative 2017 Season Opening Dates
To help North Dakota hunters prepare for hunting seasons in 2017, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department annually provides its best estimate for opening dates for the coming year.
Dates become official when approved by governor's proclamation. Tentative opening dates for 2017 include:
Dove, - September 1
Sharptail, Hun, Ruffed Grouse, Squirrel - September 9
Youth Waterfowl - September 16
Early Resident Waterfowl - September 23
Regular Waterfowl - September 30
Youth Pheasant - October 7
Pheasant, - October 14
DNR seeks public input on update of greater prairie-chicken management plan
The public is invited to provide input regarding revisions to the Department of Natural Resources' 10-year greater prairie-chicken management plan.
A public meeting Feb. 22 at the Fine Arts Center in the McMillan Memorial Library, 490 East Grand Ave., Wisconsin Rapids from 5-7 p.m. will give attendees an opportunity to receive information regarding the plan revision process, current prairie-chicken population, draft conceptual alternatives and share feedback with DNR staff.
"This public meeting is a great opportunity for stakeholders and the interested public to give early input as DNR staff and partners begin the process of revising the prairie-chicken management plan," said Mark Witecha, Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist.
Informational displays will be available at the public meeting and DNR staff will be present for one-on-one discussion and questions. People can submit comments at the public meeting or via an online comment form (which will be posted following the public meeting) through Friday, March 10. Additional public input opportunities will be available after a draft plan is developed and again when the final plan is presented to the Natural Resources Board for approval.
"We look forward to hearing the public's thoughts on managing this iconic native bird and how to keep grassland habitats healthy into the future to benefit both people and wildlife," said Lesa Kardash, Wildlife Biologist for Portage County.
The greater prairie-chicken is a native grouse species that lives in open grassland habitats. In Wisconsin, this species resides in four nearly-isolated sub-populations centered within four DNR Wildlife Areas - Leola Marsh, Buena Vista, Paul J. Olson and George W. Mead - located in Adams, Portage, Wood, and Marathon counties.
Population declines over the past several decades have led to an increased emphasis on grassland habitat management on these four core properties and neighboring private lands through land use agreements, and continued declines raised concerns that Wisconsin population was losing genetic diversity.
Following recommendations from a nationwide panel of experts, prairie-chicken hens from Minnesota were trapped and translocated to Wisconsin between 2006 and 2009. While this effort did provide positive genetic results, further action is needed to ensure the long-term success of this gamebird. Ongoing research has highlighted additional potential avenues to stabilize Wisconsin's population.
The previous greater prairie-chicken management plan was completed in 2004 and covered the period 2004-2014. Department staff are hopeful that an updated management plan and strengthened ties with local communities, stakeholders and interested citizens will allow the greater prairie-chicken to once again thrive in Wisconsin.
To learn more about prairie-chickens in Wisconsin and management plan revisions, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "prairie chicken plan."
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News March 2017
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