Ohio State University scientists with the Terrestrial Wildlife Ecology Laboratory in the School of Environment and Natural Resources are partnering with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, Pheasants Forever, Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and landowners in southwest Ohio to bring back the Northern Bobwhite. The Northern Bobwhite is a native quail that once had a range spanning nearly every Ohio county, but is found today in fewer and fewer Ohio counties. “The statewide flame of quail is slowly going out,” according to Mark Wiley, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and holds a master’s degree in fisheries and wildlife science in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR). “In southwest Ohio there are small embers remaining with the takeaway message being that our efforts to conserve the Northern Bobwhite via habitat management can make a real difference here,” said Wiley.
Habitat loss associated with land use and the intensification of agricultural practices are a few of the factors to blame for the population declines with weather and predators also playing a role.
For the past seven years the partners have collaborated to study the Northern Bobwhite and in particular are investigating habitat management and covey formation across four study sites located on private land in Highland and Brown counties in Ohio. Over 50 landowners have collaborated and six graduate students from SENR have been engaged in the partnership.
The partners gathered together in Hillsboro, Ohio on the evening of July 24, 2014 to share a meal, discuss what they’ve learned, and identify future opportunities for collaboration.
Coree Brooks and Randy Knapik, current Ohio State graduate students, specializing in fisheries and wildlife science in the SENR shared findings associated with edge feathering, a management practice used to impact winter survival that creates woody cover and promotes further growth of shrubs and annual plants. The practice helps to protect Bobwhites from winter weather and predators by providing protective cover near cropland food sources. Edge feathering should improve survival during winter, allowing the population to grow and expand into currently unoccupied areas.
Olivia Smith, also specializing in fisheries and wildlife science, presented research on covey formation and utilized whistle count surveys to estimate and track changes in the breeding population to help answer where habitat should be provided.
Barb Bauer, a farm bill biologist with Pheasants Forever and organizer of the gathering, shared information on a new opportunity for landowners in Highland county to become involved in enhancing nesting cover in target areas through 30-foot habitat buffers. The buffers, according to Bauer, “will provide nesting cover and the flower mix will encourage insects - an excellent food source for quail.” John Kaiser, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources described the economic benefits of buffer strips for wildlife habitat.
Charlie Payne, a regional wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever remarked on the opportunity, “The epicenter for Northern Bobwhite is right here in southwest Ohio and cover is vital to protect quail from predators.”
At the end of the evening, Bob Gates, wildlife ecologist and faculty advisor to the three graduate student researchers currently engaged in the project presented plaques to 18 landowners who allowed edge-feathering to be done on their property. Gates acknowledged their vital role in allowing access to their land and advancing scientific knowledge of management practices to enhance Bobwhite quail habitat. “Identifying the problem is relatively easy compared to actually doing something to solve it. Partnerships such as this are essential if we are to rise to the challenge of adopting wildlife-friendly land use practices on working lands.” He also reflected the project has been a highlight of his career and has been “a formative experience for students who are the next generation of wildlife scientists.”