South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources is encouraging the state’s landowners to make their properties a welcome habitat for bobwhites, a species biologists worry is in decline.
The grasslands and pine areas where bobwhites settle have been reduced significantly over the past 80 years. That has led to a decrease in South Carolina’s population, according to DNR Small Game Program Leader and SC Quail Coordinator Michael Hook.
“The answer is simple. It’s habitat.” Hook said. “Changes in forestry and agriculture practices and just changes in the way we’re managing lands has gotten rid of that brushy, weedy areas that bobwhites and those other species need. As it disappears, so goes those species.”
“We’re trying to put more habitat on the ground for bobwhites,” he said.
DNR is putting some of those practices to work on the land it manages.
“We do a good bit of prescribed burning,” Hook said. “Do a good bit of winter disking. We’ll go into those old field systems in November, December, January and February and just simply disk the land and what comes back up is those native warm season grasses and forage that the birds use.”
The South Carolina Quail Council Bobwhite Initiative is encouraging property owners to try the same restorative practices. Federal grant money is available for property owners who do so.
“There’s a fair amount of money out there available for bobwhites, longleaf pine and pollinator habitats and they are all sort of intertwined. They all are sort of the same type of habitat,” Hook said. “We’re trying to get the word out that the money’s there to help landowners do that work. We go out and help identify what needs to be done on a landowner’s property. We write management plans. We go talk to them, try to find that money that’s available and help them through the process to obtain that money. . . it’s a little bit burdensome but once you get through it, it’s certainly worthwhile.”
Hook said human landscaping and grass-cutting efforts discourage bobwhite habitat.
“Create more messy areas for the birds,” he said. “What’s beautiful to us is not necessarily beautiful to the bobwhites and if you’ve got small acreage, just letting your corner pieces grow up in the wild, native vegetation. Hedgerows. Fence lines. . . the more people that do it, the more connectivity there is and the better off the bobwhites are.”
Hook said bobwhites are used to living around humans. “They’re around farms. They’re around folks all the time and you’ll see them out and about and they’re pretty inquisitive, too,” he said. “They’ll see that disturbance. They want to come check it out and the same thing goes for your yards. They see something going on, they’re going to come check you out.”
Because of the long breeding season in South Carolina, one bird can raise multiple broods. A male may take one clutch while the female raises another.
“Quail are really good at dying but they’re also really good at reproducing,” Hook said. “So they take full advantage of our long summers.”
November 2 is the application deadline for a program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for South Carolina farmers, ranchers and private landowners for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program for fiscal year 2019 funding.