By Michael Hook and Kristin Coulter for The Island Connection
If you are of a certain age, you might recall hearing the iconic bobwhite whistle while you spent your summer days outside. This call isn’t from just any bird but from the bobwhite quail.
Bobwhites breed from April to September, with mid-June to the end of July being their peak season – this is when you hear their calls. Once mating season is over and winter comes, bobwhites form social groups called coveys. You will find them roosting in a circle with each individual bird facing outward. In this formation, they are able to watch for predators 360 degrees around and also have thermal protection.
Unique ways abound with bobwhites.
From nesting to feeding, they will spend the majority of their life on the ground. They thrive in habitats with grassy, weedy and unkempt areas around fields and forests. You might think this is a dangerous place for a bird, and you would be right. The bobwhite quail’s average life span is less than a year; however, this bird has a high capacity for reproduction.
When bobwhite quail chicks hatch, they are precocial, meaning they are fully formed and don’t need their parents to feed them. The first few weeks of life, their diet consist of insects to gain protein for feather development, and the young birds eventually begin to eat mostly plant material.
Once their feathers come in, they are easily identifiable as male or female. Like many other birds, bobwhite quail are sexually dimorphic – the two sexes look different. Males have bright white stripes above and below their eyes; females have light brown or tan stripes.
While they have a high capacity for reproduction, over the years the population of bobwhite quail has continued to decrease. In 2015, the statewide South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative was formed based on a plan the state Department of Natural Resources wrote to restore populations to early-1980 levels. Since this time, we have seen an increase in bobwhite numbers year after.
We continue to work as a collective group of organizations to restore the bobwhite quail population. But it’s not just up to the organizations. This initiative needs dedicated individuals who want to help us reach this goal.
From volunteers to landowners to donations, you and your family can get involved in so many ways to help this species thrive. To learn more about how you help the bobwhite quail, visit dnr.sc.gov/quail/help.html.