Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bird surveys show increase of quail in southeast Missouri focus area

Results of the Missouri Department of Conservation's recently completed spring breeding bird surveys in Scott County showed increased numbers of Bobwhite quail. (MDC file photo)
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) recently completed spring breeding bird surveys in Scott County and the results showed increased numbers of Bobwhite quail. These surveys were conducted within the Scott County Quail Focus Area as well as outside the focus area.  Within the focus area with improved grassland habitat, 217 birds were heard and 56 of those were Bobwhite quail, which was the emphasis of the study. The 56 quail that were heard is an increase from the 44 quail counted in 2014 and 17 quail counted in 2013.
According to MDC Private Lands Conservationist Brad Pobst, the survey included Dickcissel, Eastern meadowlark, Field sparrow, Northern bobwhite, and Ring-necked pheasant; all grassland birds. The purpose of the surveys is to track the effects of grassland habitat improvements based on the numbers of grassland birds recorded in the area.
“If there’s an increase of birds in the area, we can agree that the birds are responding well to the habitat,” Pobst said.
To conduct the study, conservationists listen for male birds as they call for a mate in several different areas. Pobst said MDC also conducts a Fall Covey Count focused on Bobwhite quail, to estimate the number of quail coveys in an area.
For this spring breeding survey, the focus area was land where habitat improvements have been made. Another portion of the study was done in an area that’s not currently managed for grassland habitat. In the area without grassland habitat management, conservationists heard a total of 87 birds, of which 16 were Bobwhite quail.
Pobst attributes the increase in quail numbers to the use of federal and state cost share programs like Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Idle Land Programs. 
“Landowners within the Scott County focus area are taking advantage of these programs and transitioning their less productive farm ground into wildlife friendly grasses and forbs that benefit these grassland birds,” Pobst said. 
When landowners transition land into wildlife friendly grassland habitat, they enroll their less productive ground.
“Landowners are also experiencing success by signing up for the MDC’s Idle Lands Program that is only available on sandy soils,” Pobst said.
As part of this and other programs, private lands conservationists, like Pobst, work with the landowners to manage their acreage for the benefit of the grassland birds through workshops, writing management plans and burn plans, meeting on site to discuss management options, and providing information on available programs. Grassland management includes techniques such as prescribed burns, disking, controlling invasive species and woody encroachment.
Pobst said MDC is always looking for more landowners to commit to improving grassland bird habitat.
“Only a very small percentage of land in Missouri is public land, so our birds truly are dependent on private landowners to work toward developing this vital habitat,” Pobst said. “We’re here to work with folks to help them get the most out of their land for wildlife habitat.”
More information on Bobwhite quail populations in Missouri and how to get started on developing grassland bird habitat can be found at mdc.mo.gov, or by contacting a local Missouri Department of Conservation office.