Alabama Quail Trail
The goal of the Alabama Quail Trail (AQT) is to focus the interest and resources in quail
hunting, quail research and quail conservation in a manner that achieves benefits for quail
and stimulates rural economic development opportunities.
To learn more about Alabama’s Quail, read “The Return of the Bobwhite Quail” by Ted DeVos
and Marisa Lee-Sasser.
By Ted DeVos, AWF Director, Regions Bank Trust Department, Certified Wildlife Biologist and Registered Forester and Marisa Lee-Sasser, AWF Marketing/PR Director, Certified Wildlife Biologist
It is well known that bobwhite quail have suffered substantial population declines over the last 30 or more years.
The reasons for this decline, however, are somewhat elusive. Quail populations appear to have peaked in the late 1960's and early 1970's throughout Alabama and the rest of the southeastern U.S. Since that time, Alabama's (as well as most of the Southeast's) populations have been declining at around 4.3 % per year. Major declines (6.4 % per year) have occurred since 1980. While these numbers are drastic, indicating a 30-year decline of nearly 85 % of the estimated population we had in 1970, there are some bright spots in sight.
One is that there is an abundance of examples of habitat management projects resulting in not only increased quail populations but also an abundance of native birds capable of maintaining population levels. In addition, the Alabama Quail Trail
has brought together conservation organizations, businesses, and individuals with a passion for quail and quail hunting to focus renewed interest in this fine game bird.
First, we ought to take a closer look at the possible reasons for the significant quail decline. If you ask ten quail hunters (or other hunters for that matter) why we do not have the quail populations we had in
the '70's, then you are likely to get ten different answers. Ask
biologists who have worked with quail in the last decade or two and you will likely get a smaller but still varied list. Unsubstantiated theories concerning the quail decline run from fire ants, El Niño, cattle
egrets, pen-raised quail releases, genetics, Mexican quail, diseases, turkeys, and many others. While some of these ideas have a little merit, the majority of the quail decline can be attributed to habitat loss in one form or another.
Region-wide, development, road construction, agri-business operations (large agricultural fields), industrial forestry (large planted pine plantations), as well as other conversions of quail habitat to non-quail habitat are responsible for a good portion of the decline of quail. Subtle examples of this might include the evolution of an old fallow field (good quail habitat), unburned and undisturbed since 1966, into a 36 year old, shady mixed pine/hardwood stand more suited to providing habitat for turkeys and deer than quail and rabbits. Woodlands across the state as a whole have grown from predominantly open, burned, pine woodlands with grassy groundcovers to shady mixed pine hardwoods or hardwoods; basically changing from good quail habitat to good turkey habitat.
Interestingly enough, many intensely managed quail properties have also suffered population declines in the last 30 years. Reasons for these declines have been studied thoroughly and, in general, will fall into a "short list" including increased predator populations, increased predator habitat (too many upland hardwoods), growing too many trees per acre (not enough sun on the ground), improved pasture grasses taking over the groundcover, not enough prescribed burning, harmful pesticides, or some combination of these. However, on properties addressing habitat and predator issues, it is possible that native quail populations can approach near record levels.
Not only are quail declining at these precipitous rates, but various songbirds as well. Species such as Bachman's sparrow, Pewee, rofous-sided towhee, meadowlark, indigo bunting, and several other birds that use and require the same habitat types that quail do are suffering the same population losses as quail. The good news is that as new habitat is created for quail, these birds respond as well. The most encouraging thing about creating quail and early successional habitat is that it appears to be a win-win management scenario.
If a landowner manages his uplands in an open, burned, pineywoods fashion with good thicket cover and fields scattered throughout the uplands, and maintains creekbottoms and hardwood flats he can expect to have excellent populations of deer, turkey, quail, rabbits, squirrels (both fox and gray), as well as an abundance of various and unique songbirds, herptiles and other interesting animals. It is all about the grassy, weedy understory (early successional habitat) that provides both quantity and quality food and cover for these animals.
Think back to how the countryside used to look in Alabama. Large plantation style farmland with open fields, upland pineywoods and hardwood bottoms. If you grew up quail hunting in Alabama, then you are familiar with this scene and the joy of watching your favorite bird dog locate a covey of birds while you test your marksmanship skills in an effort to bring dinner to the table. Unfortunately, the days of finding eight to ten coveys in an afternoon while walking your family farm appear to be long gone. That is where the Alabama Quail Trail hopes to make a difference.
The Alabama Quail Trail and its partners are dedicated to Alabama's quail and quail hunting heritage. Our goal is to focus the interest and resources in quail hunting, quail research and quail conservation in a manner that achieves benefits for quail and stimulates rural economic development opportunities.
The Alabama Quail Trail partners are in the process of raising money through fundraisers and grants to promote the following activities:
Ultimately, we hope the end result will be an increased quail population that will provide greater quail hunting opportunities in Alabama. In addition to benefiting Alabama hunters, increasing quail numbers will also encourage hunters from other states to plan their hunting excursions in Alabama. More out-of-state hunters in Alabama will mean more money being brought into the state for recreational purposes that will in turn help economic development in rural areas. The benefits are endless for Alabama and Alabama's wildlife. Let us hope that our children will be able to hear the distinct whistle of a bobwhite quail from their back porch, rather than from the city zoo.
To find out more about the Alabama Quail Trail and their partners please visit www.alabamaquailtrail.org. On this website you will find information about some of the high quality quail hunting facilities that we have in Alabama in addition to learning more about the research and conservation projects that the Alabama Quail Trail Partners are undertaking to make the dream of increased quail populations in Alabama a reality.