Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative Confirms Nesting Quail In New Jersey Pinelands: First known nesting since the 1980’s!

1st quail nest at study site NJ (Will MASCALUSO)Chatsworth, NJ - Two wild quail nests have been found at the study site where two months earlier wild Northern Bobwhite quail from Georgia were released into the Pinelands as part of Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative. This restoration initiative led by NJ Audubon is seeking to re-establish Northern Bobwhite to the Pinelands and also to demonstrate that stewardship of Pinelands forests is essential to their health and support of native wildlife. “We are thrilled about this news of confirmed nests”, said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of NJ Audubon. “Wild quail had been extirpated from Pinelands since at least the late 1980’s, so knowing that the translocated quail are adapting to the site and are breeding demonstrates that forest stewardship, coupled with translocation, can help restore quail to the NJ Pinelands.”

Northern bobwhite quail have experienced a long-term, 100-year decline throughout most of their range; New Jersey's declines have been among the most precipitous. As part of a project to restore Northern Bobwhite to the Pinelands of NJ, bobwhite by dr christopher williams (courtesy of Univer of Delaware)on April 1, 2015 New Jersey Audubon along with project collaborators, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and project partners the Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry, the University of Delaware, and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW), released wild Northern Bobwhite at the Pine Island Cranberry site. The birds had been caught in the wild in Georgia, tested disease free, then translocated to the Pine Island property located in Chatsworth, NJ. The birds, each fitted with a radio collar transmitter are being tracked to determine movements, predation, site fidelity and nesting.

"The efficacy of translocation toward population recovery is contingent on successful reproduction. Finding these first nests is exciting as this confirms that those individuals released are indeed reproducing giving us great hope going forward" said project collaborator Dr. Theron Terhune of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Project researcher and graduate student Will Macaluso of the University of Delaware found the nests tucked away in tall grass while radio tracking the released birds at the study site. “There are fourteen eggs in the first nest and one of the radio collared males was incubating them when I found it.” said Macaluso. “We have not been able to confirm the number of eggs in the second nest, as one of the females is on the nest incubating them.”

Typically Northern Bobwhite incubate their eggs for 23 days, leaving the nest for only brief times to feed. After the eggs hatch, the female, or hen, broods the young briefly and then leads them away from the nest for rearing. Hens do not feed the young. Instead the hen will lead the chicks to places where they can find insects (not seeds) which will form the bulk of their diet as they grow. Often both parents accompany the young.

Prior to the translocation of the birds to the study site, New Jersey Audubon in 2014 had conducted a study to determine the abundance and diversity of insects, specifically arthropods, within several forest patches targeted for the reintroduction of Northern Bobwhite. Arthropods, a diverse group of invertebrates that includes insects, spiders and centipedes, are an important source of essential amino acids and protein for growth, feather development, and maintenance in the quail chicks.

The results of the study indicated that overall arthropod abundance appeared to peak site-wide in early July. Further, patches where the forest was thinned and had experienced prescribed burning exhibited greater diversity and abundance of arthropods as compared to areas of forest where no management had been performed.

habitat at one of the release areas at the NJ Pinelands site(parke)“We know that the quantity and quality of habitat directly affects annual quail survival rates, making habitat the ultimate determinant of bobwhite population status,” said NJDFW Director Dave Chanda. “The Division’s goal” he continued, “is to restore and enhance early successional habitat to provide sufficient habitat to sustain a quail covey for their entire life cycle throughout the year. With the habitat in place, the restoration project has a much better chance of succeeding. This news about reproduction in the Pinelands is certainly key.”

“We’re also thrilled with this latest news and are extremely grateful for the continuing hard work of everyone involved with this project,” said Stefanie Haines of Pine Island Cranberry Company. “If the quail are nesting, this means we’re taking care of the land exactly the way we’re supposed to!”

 To find out how to make a donation to the Quail project go to bobwhite.njaudubon.org.   

Photos by Will Macaluso, Chris Williams, Ph.D, and John Parke