Bobwhite Quail
Bobwhite Quail
Known in some quarters as partridge, the bobwhite quail nearly exited the stage in the '90s, but is showing signs of life once again - just barely.

In April, Thurman Tucker of Minnesota Quail Forever reported a slight uptick in quail numbers in Houston County, one of the best places to find the chunky little birds in the North Star State.

"It's encouraging when people report seeing quail," he said last week. "I got a call from the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) in Caledonia last week. A turkey hunter told them he'd spotted a bobwhite."

A similar report came in from a Spring Grove resident, who spotted a bird picking up gravel on a Wilmington Township roadway.

"Back in about 1995, the bottom just kind of dropped out, not only in Minnesota but all over, including places like South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Indiana," Tucker said. "Most people feel the loss of habitat finally just kind of knocked it down....

"When you look at the Audubon (reports) in the last 40 years or so there's no other bird species that's gone down as much as bobwhite quail."

Tucker wrote in "Covey Call" (the newsletter of Minnesota Quail Forever), that the little birds were once fairly common near Spring Grove:

"The three main counties I focused on were Houston, Fillmore, and Winona counties. In these three counties, I had 12 different high schools that I would visit and get the sighting information from the students, and they in turn, got additional information from the school bus drivers. Of the three counties, Houston County had the greatest number of quail sightings reported to me from students and landowners," he reported.

"I personally saw and heard more quail in Houston County than the other two counties. In 1981 one sighting sticks out in my mind. I was at a Spring Grove High School FFA (Future Farmers of America) class, and I asked the students if they had seen or heard quail on their land. It was about 20 to 25 students in the class, and almost all of the students raised their hands indicating they had heard or seen quail.

"One student said that he and his brother had seen quail on their land for the last two years when they would go snowmobiling. I checked this location out, and sure enough, I spotted the birds myself. I went back to that location for those eight consecutive years and for eight years the birds were seen by me at that location.

"Fast forward to the year 2000, only about 10 percent of the same student count would raise their hands indicating they had seen/heard quail. Last year - 2013, I asked students in Spring Grove High School how many had seen or heard quail, and only two hands went up. Of the two students, one saw a covey of quail while deer hunting in Iowa. Just as surprising, I asked the students how many had seen meadowlarks in the last year and not one student raised their hand....

"On a more positive note, in the last five years we have had a slight increase in the number of quail being reported to us from Houston County. This could be in part due to more landowners are improving their land to be more quail friendly, and it could be that since we started a Quail Forever Chapter in Houston County back in 2005 that the word is getting out for people to report to us their sightings of quail. Last year we had the highest number of bobwhite quail sightings reported to us since our QF Chapter started and that was 50 sightings."

With about 500 acres in Houston and Fillmore counties enrolled in the CP33 Conservation Reserve program, there's room for hope, Tucker added. That project is aimed specifically at restoring quail habitat.

"We're making a little progress. A little slow, but it's coming around. We're optimistic. We've got a quail habitat crew together now. We'd like to get more people involved in habitat work.

"Many years ago, the wild turkey population in Minnesota was very low. They've obviously made a comeback.

"The fortunate thing about quail is they can reproduce so very fast. If you get a little bit of positive stuff going with them, they can bring out three broods a year. They're almost like a rabbit. They can really come around. But you've got to have a minimum amount of habitat for them to hold on to."

Mark Monson of Spring Grove is president of the Southeast Minnesota Chapter of Quail Forever. Dave Klinski of Caledonia serves as habitat coordinator. For more information, go to mnquailforever.org.