Monday, February 2, 2009

Remembering Bob

Quail Sketch_2008 Thinking back to my early years, nothing could have been more satisfying to me than waking up early in the morning to go hunting with dad. I can remember trampling through the woods behind him with a pack of beagles all around us with their noses to the ground and their tails wagging. I just knew a rabbit was going to burst out of that patch of honeysuckle at any moment, followed by an exciting chase. It was the greatest, it’s what I lived for back then.

It wasn’t just the hunt that I looked forward to, it was being outdoors exploring the woods, hanging with dad, and experiencing nature and all it offered. Although we were after rabbits, other wildlife encounters often occurred within the thickets of the cutover. I can’t begin to count the number of times that Northern bobwhites would explode into the sky all around us, only to land again just a few hundred feet in front of us. If you haven’t experienced a covey of bobwhites scattering straight up in front of you with wings flapping and going every which way then you’re missing a thrill. It was quite the experience; then again it would often scare the bejeezus out of me. There was no time to react, much less pull up a gun, aim and shoot; besides, dad wouldn’t allow me to shoot any game other than what we were after, regardless if it was in season or not. Only bird hunters with trained dogs had a chance against these birds.

Since those past years I now hunt using my camera, and the bobwhites aren’t as common as they once were. Even bird hunters have since adjusted to an easier approach of hunting them on game preserves, where the quail are pen raised and released for hunting and dog training.


The Northern bobwhite quail is a non-migratory game bird of the eastern United States and Mexico. It’s mostly a ground-dwelling bird. Its name (bobwhite) derives from its characteristic call – ‘bob-white’ or ‘bob-bob-white’, mostly made by males in the spring and summer. Seeds, fruits and some insects make up the biggest portion of their diet. Both the male and female participate in nest building and incubating the eggs. The nest is usually just a shallow depression in the ground lined with grasses and leaves.

It’s no secret to area birders and outdoorsmen that the bobwhite quail has been in a state of decline for the last several decades. Loss of habitat is the biggest reason for their decline. In addition, modern farming practices are part to blame for the spread of non-native invasive grasses such as fescue. Fescue grows fast and gets very thick, too thick for quail to move through. Fescue seed is often found in many of the seeds that farmers use and it thrives in fields that are routinely bush-hogged for maintenance.


A new program called Quail Forever was established in 2005 as a result of the bobwhites declining numbers. Quail Forever (QF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to quail conservation. Its mission is to work with farmers and other landowners to help improve habitat and increase awareness. Similar organizations such as Pheasants Forever and Quail Unlimited are also dedicated to the cause and work together to identify solutions to aid quail populations.

Finding large scale suitable habitat are the toughest challenges that lie ahead. The main goal for QF is to find new habitat and work with state officials to offer guidance on a variety of landowner programs and habitat management options. For instance, establish a larger and more wildlife friendly buffer around crop fields, eliminate non-native grasses, and encourage the growth of native plants. In the near future, QF hopes to offer their own brand of seed specifically designed for bobwhites.

If interested in learning more about quail habitat, the University of Kentucky and The Progressive Farmer organization have come up with a new tool that will show ways to increase the quail population on your land and other useful tips on helping quail in your area.


Progressive Farmer Quail Habitat Management Course CD

The Northern bobwhite photos were taken by me a couple weeks ago at a nearby animal farm.

Reference - Clarkson, Dyke. "Bring Back Bob". Virginia Wildlife Oct 2008: 4-8.



Kim said...

Great post. The woods are such a wonderful place to explore and get to see nature first hand.

I don't know anything about quail so I appreciate the information and the pictures.

mick said...

A very interesting post. I have read about re-planting native grass species out here in Australia also.

Bob Kaufman said...

and I thought you were remembering me! Just kidding. :-)I had a chance to see a (just one) Northern Bobwhite last year in spring at Texas and it was too quick to be photographed.

Jan said...

I grew up in PA and my dad was a hunter and loved nature & the woods. We had bobwhites there but I can't say I remember seeing any since then! I just browsed through your post and was surprised I hadn't been here sooner. You have such great info. and of course I love your birding photos! I'm so glad you left a comment on my blog about my snow pic's. From the latest weather forecast, it appears that you will get your snow tomorrow!!!!

Wendy said...

Beautiful birds. Wild Turkey populations were once on the decline. Now, thanks to the efforts of organizations like Wild Turkey Federation, they are doing very well in most parts of the country. Let's hope the quail have such a come back.

Chandramouli S said...

What a great childhood you had and you still have the fun of enjoying that thrill! I'm jealous. It's always to go through woods and explore its womb and be welcomed by Nature's surprises! Great post, Alan and as usual, great pictures! Love 'em!

Neil said...

Beautiful looking Quail. Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and like you, used to hunt. Now I hunt with my camera, to capture the essence of wildlife that will last a lifetime.

Excellent post!

Heidi said...

Such a shame they are declining... great post filled with education on them. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,
I've heard a Bobwhite's call, and was amazed at how much it actually did sound like the name. I hope to see one this spring. A couple of weeks ago I saw some kind of quail at Bosque del Apache. They were mostly running away from me, but I could see their head feather bobbing as they ran. Made me smile.

Anonymous said...

Great post Alan. Very informative and excellent photos of the Bobwhites. You would be hard pressed to get shots like that in the woods I venture!

I don't know Bobwhites, growing up in California, but if they spook up like the California Quail, they sound like a helicopter taking off and it gets your heart pumping fast!

I'm sure the California Quail is what you saw out here Amber. They are plentiful.

Dale said...

It's always nice to remember such animals. That's really interesting an post. Thanks a lot for sharing.

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wildlife removal said...

Game hunting is great fun! We share the same childhood experiences. I loved it whenever spring season came, because that's when me and my dad were usually the most active.