By James Tomberlin, Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist
The northern bobwhite quail occupies a prominent place in Georgia’s wildlife heritage. In fact, the Georgia General Assembly formally designated the bobwhite as the official Game Bird of Georgia in 1970. During the 1800s and through the mid 1900s quality early succession habitat occurred throughout the state as a by-product of the extensive, low-intensity agriculture and forestry practices. This resulted in widespread bobwhite abundance and earned Georgia the reputation as a premier quail hunting destination. However, since that time bobwhite populations have experienced severe long-term declines – more than 90 percent since 1966.
This decline is an indicator of a dramatic ecological change with widespread economic and recreational impacts. Bobwhite hunters in Georgia have declined by more than 80 percent since 1964, with a similar decline in hunter harvest. Across much of Georgia, bobwhite densities have fallen below levels needed to attract and sustain hunter interest. In some landscapes viable bobwhite populations are no longer apparent.
Due to the severity of the bobwhite decline, a grassroots effort through the Georgia General Assembly and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board led to the development of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) in 1998. BQI is a proactive effort to restore and maintain bobwhite habitat on private lands across Georgia’s Upper Coastal Plain.
An important objective of BQI is to increase recreational opportunities primarily through improved quail hunting. BQI cooperators have worked with WRD to voluntarily host half-day or full-day quota youth quail hunts during the wild quail season. These hunts have provided many youths with their first opportunity to experience wild quail hunting, which is paramount to sustaining this part of Georgia’s wildlife and hunting heritage. The 2015 hunts were graciously hosted by Lee Harris of Red Hawk Plantation in Pulaski County and Tom Bradbury of Whitehall Plantation in Bleckley and Laurens Counties. The hunts gave Zachary Shumate of Fort Valley, Brian Massey of Thomaston, Chad Shelton of Thomasville, and Ethan Canaday of Loganville, accompanied by a parent/guardian, to pursue wild bobwhite quail for the first time. Both hunts were a success, with great fellowship and multiple coveys encountered and each hunter harvesting at least 1 quail.
Since its inception, BQI has advanced bobwhite restoration in Georgia and across the Southeast and revealed:
- Within appropriate landscapes, bobwhite numbers can be increased through judicious habitat restoration across working farms and forestlands
- Landowner demand for bobwhites is high but adequate levels of financial incentives and qualified technical staff are essential for success
- Habitat restoration must be focused into spatially explicit landscapes to produce and sustain a bobwhite population response.