On Wednesday January 27, 2016, just 4 days after the blizzard that dumped over 20” of snow in the Pinelands, NJ Audubon staff and research partners were able to verify that all radio collared Northern Bobwhite are doing well following the blizzard.
Using telemetry the radio collared birds were tracked and found to be alive and part of larger coveys that included other quail from last year’s broods. The quail were found to be utilizing cover provided by young pines in areas where forestry had occurred. The young pines were bent and bowed by the snow creating a patchwork of “lean-tos” that blocked out drifts, created pockets of bare ground and seemingly provided both shelter and areas to forage. The cover provided by the young pines appears significant as research staff found other birds, including several Mourning Doves and a Pine Warbler, frozen solid, with no signs of mortality due to predators, under deadfalls and brush piles that were exposed in open field or edges where snow drifts were able to accumulate.
Climatic factors such as serve weather events (snow, drought, floods, etc.) influence the Northern Bobwhite’s annual survival and can be devastating to Bobwhite populations, especially where quail habitat is of low quality. Even in areas of high quality habitat, severe climatic factors may reduce populations to a dangerously low level. However, the Bobwhite is a survivor, a resilient species that with quality cover to meet their habitat needs, the Bobwhite’s potential for reproduction allows the species to recover.
The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative in NJ is dependent upon: (1) areas of high quality habitat and (2); the translocation of true wild birds, not pen raised, with both factors providing significant advantage in the face of severe storm events. The release site at Pine Island Cranberry has been stewarded through the implementation of a Forest Stewardship Plan, creating patches of young forest habitat suitable for quail and rich in cover and food resources. In addition, the wild birds are known to more quickly adapt and yield offspring that also exhibit innate survival instincts.
Fossil records show that quail-like birds existed at least a million years ago, but their appearance in most of the northern states across their range probably did not occur until sometime after retreat of the last glacier, approximately 10,000 years ago. Over the last 10,000 years serve storm events obviously have occurred and through it all the Bobwhite has persisted.
While we still have a bit of winter to go, seeing that the quail have made it through this first significant weather event since their release in NJ, helps to reinforce the message that more people need to recognize, the need for more active stewardship and management of land to produce high quality wildlife habitat. Years of fire suppression and an overall lack of disturbance have left the forest of the pinelands overstocked, and devoid of resources that Northern Bobwhite and other birds and wildlife typically rely upon. With stewardship and management high quality habitat can be created, yielding a diversity of native species and providing the ecological services that these habitats historically and naturally provided. Native species, including the Northern Bobwhite, all provide ecological, historical, esthetic, recreational, scientific and educational value and are so important to maintaining a stable ecosystem for generations to come.
To see project researcher Kaili Stevens tracking the Bobwhite at Pine Island on January 27, 2016 and see one flush watch the video that is on our Quail Update Page. Click here for Video.
For more on the Quail Project see NJ Audubon's Quail webpage http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipInAction/NorthernBobwhiteRestorationInitiative.aspx
Photos By John Parke. Video By Kaili Stevens