March 2017 Bird Photo of the Month

Quail on the loose © Maria Heffernan
Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)

Why is the Northern Bobwhite one of the most important game birds? And why one of the most extensively studied bird species in the world? In the wild, Bobwhites forage on the ground in coveys, startling and confusing predators when they burst together in the air flying in different directions. Thus, hunters find them an exciting challenge, so have introduced them around the world, although Bobwhites are only native to the Eastern U.S. and Mexico. Bobwhites breed well in captivity and produce large broods of 25 or more from April to June, often two or more broods per season. Thus, hunting lodges can release captive-bred birds onto their properties for their client hunters.

Researchers favor studying Bobwhites due to the bird’s large broods and thriving in laboratories. Because Bobwhites do not migrate, the local effects of environmental factors in different regions are easier to study. Thus, the Bobwhite played a major role in the first study of the impact of pesticides, habitat and environmental factors on population numbers (1931), and effects of prescribed fires on land management (1931, 1933). Overall, Northern Bobwhite populations have been declining for the last century. Human activities (land conversion, highways, big agriculture, solar farms, excessive use of pesticides and herbicides) have diminished natural habitats. Invasive, exotic grasses reduce native food sources (insects, leaves, and seeds) and like for other ground-nesting birds, fire ants weaken chicks.

Yet, we still are able to hear their distinctive “Bob–White!” repetitive call in grassland and pine-hardwood forests (Maria Heffernan found this one foraging with others at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park), and appreciate its lovely feather patterns while watching it forage in coveys on the ground, furtively running until danger is too close; then, with whirring wings, startle in surprise!

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society  

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