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Wanted: A Messy Home For Bobwhites

Bob needs your help.

Bob, in this case, is the bobwhite quail. Once among the most popular game hunted in Kentucky, quail numbers have declined sharply in the last century. Since 1960 alone, Kentucky’s quail population has dropped by two-thirds.

Hunting isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of habitat.

What biologists call “habitat” is what the rest of us call “home” for wildlife. In the past 100 years, the weedy fields with plenty of seeds, bare dirt, and brushy cover have gradually given way to fields of fescue, intensely managed farmland, and the manicured look. Our farms may look tidier, but that tidiness is like a desert to quail, songbirds, and other small animals.

Because Kentucky’s habitat is lacking, past efforts to restore quail haven’t been successful. Shortly after World War I ended, the old Kentucky Game and Fish Commission imported 100,000 quail from Mexico and released them throughout the state. It didn’t work.

For years, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources raised quail in pens, then released them in all the best places. Still, quail populations continued to fall.

What will it take to bring quail back to their historic numbers? The reclaimed coal mines of eastern Kentucky offer a clue. Today, vast fields of grass and rough, shrubby plants carved from the surrounding forest line the mountaintops of the region. Quail numbers have not only held steady in some of these areas, but researchers believe they actually may be increasing.

Reclaimed mines have plenty of weeds and seeds. There’s room for quail and their chicks to walk between clumps of grass without exposing themselves to predators. (Fescue, which grows throughout the state, forms a thick carpet that is impenetrable to young quail.) Wildlife biologists are now working with mine owners to plant even better grasses and wildflowers on their property to benefit wildlife.

Landowners elsewhere in the state can help, too. If you have a fair-sized farm, call Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at (800) 858-1549 and ask for the name of your private lands biologist. With the biologist’s expertise, you too can grow a home for wildlife.



INSIDER’S TIP

Stumped for a stocking stuffer for the deer hunter on your list? Get the inside scoop on the fastest and easiest way to process a deer with Kentucky Afield television’s “Deer Processing: Techniques from the Field to the Freezer.” This popular DVD costs just $12, and is only available online at www.fw.ky.gov.

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