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Bobwhite quail making big comeback on project farm

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

The distinctive call of the bobwhite quail now resounds more widely at a project farm established to boost its habitat.

The Wolf Creek Project was started by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The project's aim is to increase populations of bobwhite quail, one of Georgia's most famous game birds, on an intensively managed, working farm, said Randy Hudson, the project director. Hudson coordinates the UGA Center for Emerging Crops and Technologies, too.

Covey count

"Old-timers can remember when there were up to 100 quail coveys on this farm in any given year," Hudson said. "When the project started, only three coveys were on the farm."

That was about one quail for each 70 acres. Now, the 2,200-acre farm in Turner County, Ga., has 56 coveys, or about one quail per 4 acres.

"Our ultimate goal is to average one quail per 2 acres," Hudson said, "or reach a population of at least 1,000, or about 90 coveys."

From the 1950s through the '70s, large coveys of bobwhite quail roamed throughout south Georgia. The area was considered the hub of quail hunting in the United States.

Over the past 50 years, however, the state's quail numbers have dropped by as much as 90 percent in some places, Hudson said. South Georgia is still quail-hunting territory. But most of the quail are pen-raised and released for hunting.

Quail-friendly farming

Modern farming practices have added greatly to the decline in Georgia's quail numbers, he said.

Bigger farms, larger fields and equipment and nonselective pest management have all hurt quail habitat and food supplies.

"Bobwhite quail prefer to nest and raise their broods in transition areas around fields and woodlands," he said. "Harsh or strong woodlands directly joining agricultural fields are not good quail habitats."

Scientists from UGA, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Forestry Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service conduct studies here in cooperation with Georgia Power, Monsanto and the Georgia Chapter of Quail Unlimited. They're trying to find the best ways to farm cotton, peanuts, corn and forest lands and help quail thrive.

In growing row crops, they focus on farm practices that cause quail little harm. They use conservation tillage. And they control insects, weeds and other pests with materials that don't harm birds.

They planted native bunch grasses along waterways. They planted longleaf pines in the nonproductive crop areas and allowed those places to grow into natural quail habitats.

Ragweed, which grows naturally in Georgia, can provide an excellent quail refuge. It provides cover from predators and a place for young quail to find a host of small beetles and grasshoppers to eat.

A farmer who increases the quail population on his farm could help improve the farm's bottom line, Hudson said.

"A huntable population of quail adds value to the farm by offering the opportunity to sell quail hunting leases," he said.

Rural Georgia could benefit, too.

"At one time hunters came from all over the world to hunt wild quail in Georgia," he said. "It's our hope to see this happen again."

Anyone interested in preserving or improving quail habitats should attend the Wolf Creek Quail Management Field Day Oct. 12. For more information or to register, call (229) 386-3416. Or go to the Web page (www.ugatiftonconference.org).

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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