Special thanks to “guest blogger” Dan Mummert, Wildlife Biologist for the PA Game Commission for his wonderful response to our question about bobwhite quail in PA which arose after my encounter with a quail on my way home from work. Sorry for the terrible picture–it was twilight and the only camera at my disposal was a phone!
It’s a sad story for our wild bobwhite quail in Pennsylvania. They were once present throughout much of the state and probably reached their highest numbers in the early to mid 1800s when most of PA was recently cut forest and farm fields. Between the late 1800’s through the mid 1900s their range contracted as northern forests of the state grew back and severe winters added to steep declines in more northern parts of the state. By the 1960s their stronghold was the southern tier of PA, especially Fulton, Franklin, York, Lancaster, and Chester Counties where winters weren’t as cold and there was still a concentration of cropland, grassy fields and brushy cover habitat. Between the mid 1960s through the 1980s studies from the North American Breeding Bird Survey found that bobwhite continued to decline at a rate of 14 percent per year. From the 1980s to present we have learned from the Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas that bobwhite have been reduced to extremely sparse levels with no area demonstrating a strong population. Chester County for example only had seven locations where evidence of potentially breeding wild quail were observed during this study which lasted from 2004-2009.
Conducting surveys of wild bobwhite quail is difficult because of the efforts of both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and sportsmen groups to stock these game birds. In the early part of the 20th century, the PGC attempted to stock quail throughout the state with birds brought in from western and southern states. From 1915 through 1925, almost 60,000 bobwhites were released by the PGC. Stocking efforts were discontinued by the PGC, though many sportsmen groups still raise and release tens of thousands of quail every year. Whether there are still naturally breeding, sustainable populations of wild bobwhites in the state is a debate. Most evidence suggests that the majority of bobwhites remaining are pen-reared releases and there are no sustainably reproducing populations remaining. What is known is that if we should ever hope to restore bobwhite quail to any region of Pennsylvania it will require an enormous effort of restoring a landscape level ecosystem composed primarily of a mixture of farmland, brushy hedgerows, grassy fields, and woodland edges.
Thanks again to Dan! I hope you were as enlightened as I. Contact TLC to learn more about ways that you can help to restore habitat here in Chester County through our Landscape Visionaries sessions, and utilize the wonderful resources available through the PA Game Commission.