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The northern bobwhite was dubbed "Prince of the Game Birds" by Charles Elliot in his book of the same title. It's a fitting title, seldom disputed by bird watchers and hunters alike. However, because of habitat loss, the once vast bobwhite quail kingdom has been reduced to remnant fields, cutover woodlands and abandoned homesites in rural Arkansas. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has joined with many local, regional and national partners to restore habitat for this important game species.
View the AGFC Strategic Quail Management Plan
These plump little ground-nesting birds display plumage that is a lesson in camouflage. Brown, black and white feathers intermingle into intricate patterns that can make the birds almost invisible at rest. Adult bobwhites average 10 inches tall. Males have a distinctly white throat patch and eyebrow-like band stretching to the back of the head. These markings are a golden-brown in female bobwhites. Often, the first indication that a bobwhite is present is when a group of them suddenly take flight, flushing at once with a tremendous sound of wingbeats.
Bobwhites prefer a combination of open woods, thickets and native grasses and weeds that create an understory of sparse ankle- to waist-high vegetation. This allows food, shelter from the elements and cover from predators, while retaining the quails ability to fly away quickly in case of danger.
Bobwhites rarely range more than a quarter mile in suitable habitat. They require little space to survive, and feeding ranges of groups may overlap. They eat a variety of seeds and insects, depending on the quail's age and the season. During spring, insects are the bobwhite's primary food source. Throughout summer and fall, berries, seeds and insects make up the bobwhite's diet. By winter, insects are gone, and grass seeds and small acorns take over the quail's diet.
Burn native warm-season grass fields to set back the grass and encourage annual weeds. Don’t delay - order your shrubs (shrub dogwood, wild plum, blackberry) this month. Drop honeylocust and hedge trees in fencelines for quail escape cover. Don’t forget to spray the stumps.
Stop wasting money on inputs on low-yield cropfield edges. Visit your local FSA office and enroll these areas in CRP practice CP33. Burn your CRP acres this month to reduce grass competition and increase wildflower abundance. Dormant seed native warm-season grass and pollinator plots.
Interseed wildflowers/legumes in conjunction with your CRP management practices. Cost share is available from USDA. Broadcast annual lespedeza over recently burned areas and firelines. Create important cover by dropping large trees along fencerows and leave them where they fall. Finish burning your native warm-season grass acres this month. For quail, DO NOT burn rank stands of native grass after March 15.
National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has partnered with NBCI to help restore quail habitat and quail populations in The Natural State. NBCI is the unified strategic effort of 25 state fish and wildlife agencies and various conservation organizations to restore wild populations of bobwhite to levels comparable to 1980. Visit the NBCI web page at www.bringbackbobwhites.org.
With more than 85 percent of Arkansas's landmass being in private ownership, participation and interest in quail management programs by private landowners is essential to the successful revitalization of quail populations in Arkansas. The following links offer many resources for landowners to discover the needs of quail and how they can help bring back this storied game bird to vibrant levels once again.