Second Year in a Row of Successful Nesting of Wild Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey Pinelands

bobwhite quail nest at Pine Island Cranberry study site 2016 (Phil Coppola)For the second year in a row researchers associated with the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative, lead by New Jersey Audubon (NJA), have confirmed active Northern Bobwhite quail nests in the New Jersey Pine Barrens!

University of Delaware graduate students, Phillip Coppola and Evan Drake, contracted by NJA, discovered six active nests at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail translocation study site while conducting their Quail Project Researcher Phil Coppola implementing raido telemitry for quail at Pine Island Cranberry Study site(Evan Drake) weekly radio telemetry surveys on the quail.

The nests are surprisingly hard to find,” said Quail Initiative Researcher Evan Drake. “Even when the telemetry equipment leads you right to them, the nests themselves are remarkably well camouflaged.” The nests consisted of a small bowl-shaped depression on the ground covered with grasses and pine needles to form a “dome”. Bobwhite quail lay an average of one egg a day and the average clutch size is between 12-14 eggs. Once all the eggs have been laid, either adult will incubate the nest.

Not only is it very exciting to find these nests, but one nest is occupied by a collared bird from this year’s release that has paired up with an un-collared bird which means that bird is from last year’s offspring,” said Quail Initiative researcher Phil Coppola. “Nesting by individuals that were translocated only months ago reaffirms the effectiveness of this tool for augmenting Bobwhite breeding populations. This is a major step in the overall reintroduction effort for this species here in the New Jersey Pinelands.”

2016 female bobwhite quail with radio transmitter at Pine island cranberry (PARKE)Earlier this year a total eighty one birds, (37 females and 44 males) were release at the Pine Island Cranberry study site by NJ Audubon and initiative partners, Pine Island Cranberry Company, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware. This was the second of three scheduled translocations of wild Bobwhite Quail captured in Georgia by project collaborator, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and released at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. In 2015, 80 wild birds were also released on site and through the use of telemetry; researchers were able to confirm 15 nests, 127 eggs laid; and 66 chicks hatched in 2015. Many of which were confirmed to have overwintered at the property and were onsite when the second release of new wild birds occurred.

We were very excited about this second release because the new birds were released into areas that already have Bobwhite from last year’s release, as well as, the young that were born here last year,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Having those birds successfully nest, raise young that overwintered from last year and are still present and are now mating with the new birds this spring only helps increases the likelihood of survival of the new birds in the wild, as well as, adds genetic diversity to this year’s mating season.” added Parke.

In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite quail is believed to be functionally extinct with the possibility of some birds stillOne of the Forest Cut areas at the Pine Island Site existing in southwestern NJ. The decline of Bobwhite, not just in New Jersey but across its entire range, is attributed to the shortage of quality habitat. “With the lack of quality habitat being the most important limiting factor for Bobwhite survival, the Pine Island Cranberry study site provides proof that active management is the key to species recovery,” said Jimmy Sloan, Upland Habitat and Wildlife Biologist with NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Recruitment is important to the long term sustainability of a Bobwhite population so these new nests are a great sign that the Bobwhites on the property are thriving and continue to benefit from the forest management being performed on the property,” added Sloan.

The Pine Island Cranberry site in New Jersey was selected to be part of a multi-state initiative to re-establish Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic States because of several factors, however it was a State Approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals and the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region. As part of the project, New Jersey has the unique focus of releasing (translocation) wild quail to the Pine Island Cranberry Property for study. Other aspects of the multi-state initiative include evaluating methods of raising captive bred wild parent reared quail; however no captive bred quail will be release in the NJ study.

This is great news; if the quail are thriving, then we’re taking care of the land just like we’re supposed to,” said Bill Haines Jr. owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Company. “Thanks to the hard work from NJ Audubon and everyone else involved with this project, we’re seeing some real progress on bringing the Bobwhite quail back to New Jersey, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

For more on the Quail Project and how you can support the initiative see NJ Audubon's Quail webpage

Photos by Phil Coppola, Evan Drake and John Parke