Bobwhite Quail Restoration Project at Connemara

by Jodi Hodak

quail-copyIt’s been years since bobwhite quail have been spotted or heard through their distinct “bob-white” call at Connemara Meadow in Allen, TX. But that’s all about to change thanks to a group of determined BPTMNs being led by Bob Mione, a BPTMN and Connemara’s Meadow Manager.

In September, the Meadow Committee approved the concept of using bobwhite quail “call back” pens as the next step in attempting to restore bobwhite quail to the Connemara Meadow and Montgomery Farms. If all goes according to plan, BPTMNs will have built a call-back pen in the meadow that about 15 young birds will call home before Christmas. The timing for the effort is focused on a period when one of the major predators of the bobwhites–snakes–are hibernating and the outdoor temperatures are more conducive to success.

“The project will be fun and full of opportunities to learn a great deal about bobwhite quail, other ground nesting birds, native supporting habitat, predators and more,” Bob said. “It will also be difficult and filled with set backs, disappointments and frustrations, similar to any restoration project. After all, if it were easy, it would already be done.”

A species in flux
Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) are one of the most common species of quail in Texas. Both sexes look very distinct, with a mottled brownish back and wings. The males, also known as cocks, have a white throat and face, while the females, or hens, have a buff-colored throat and forehead stripe.

While some reports issued by conversation and environmental groups say bobwhite populations have been on the decline since 1980, others indicate the quail population in some parts of Texas, as well as in Kansas and Oklahoma, are on the upswing.

The leading cause for both the population decline and upswing seem to point to changes in the quantity and quality of habitat. At Connemara meadow, BPTMNs will build the call-back pen close to an area where prairie restoration is well underway, where there is existing habitat provided by shrubs and small trees and a water source is nearby.

In addition to gaining as much knowledge as possible from local experts before moving forward with the project, the team will obtain the appropriate permits from the State.

How the call-back concept works
Since bobwhites love companionship, they are perfect candidates for the call-back pen concept. Bobwhites instinctively want to stay together. Part of the reason for this is safety, and another part lies in the fact that the bobwhite is one of the few bird species that roost together on the ground. While this can be very hazardous in the wild, it makes them an ideal species for the call-back pen.

Here’s how we think the concept could work at Connemara. Each day, volunteers will let a majority of the birds out of the call-back pen so they can explore their surroundings and get acclimated to their home in the meadow. The ones that remain in the pen will eventually call out to the birds on the outside and encourage them to come back through a funnel that is just the right size to ensure predators will not be able to get in. The bobwhites’ natural instinct to convey with the other birds will lead them back to the pen.

Another reason the birds will come back to the pen will be an ample supply of food and fresh water. Volunteers will make sure the birds have food and water available in the pen so they will have the ability to survive during the winter months. All of the birds will eventually be let out of the pen permanently when they are ready to survive in the meadow on their own.

With a lot of hope and a positive attitude, we have decided to embark on this exciting journey. If you would like to join us as a volunteer, contact Bob Mione at meadowmanager@connemaraconservancy.org.

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