1-Mattis Justo Quam
1-consectetur. Curabitur blandit tempus porttitor. Praesent commodo cursus magna, vel scelerisque nisl consectetur et. Duis mollis, est non commodo luctus, nisi erat porttitor ligula, eget lacinia odio sem nec elit.
Chicks at Chino
Embarking on a three-year project, Washington College ecologists team up with a Florida organization to help strengthen the population of northern bobwhite quail on the Eastern Shore by releasing more than 100 young birds at Chino Farms.
The northern bobwhite quail, once one of the most common gamebirds in eastern North America, has been dwindling in numbers for decades, a victim of urban sprawl and habitat destruction. And, after a harsh winter in 2010, when two storms killed 95 percent of the birds at the Chester River Field Research Station (CRFRS) at Chino Farms, ecologists have been working to restore the population. Now, an experiment at Chino, based on work by Florida’s Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, may help the northern bobwhite soon call the mid-Atlantic home again.
In early September, field ecologists released more than 100 young quail at Chino Farms as part of a three-year study to test bobwhite restoration techniques in the mid-Atlantic. Using techniques that he developed at Tall Timbers in Tallahassee, Florida, Theron Terhune, gamebird program director at Tall Timbers, accompanied Dan Small, field ecologist at CRFRS, to release the birds at sites around the farm. Hatched by hand but raised by wild female quail, the young birds are imprinted with the skills they need to survive in the wild.
“This current project has been refined for many years down south on adjacent properties,” Small says, “but this is the first time this project is going to be performed at this latitude. We’re interested to see if these birds from the south can survive during the winter here in Maryland.”
About 70 of the birds are equipped with tracking devices and radio tags for identification. Over the next three years, Small and students from Washington College will track and monitor the birds to see how well they survive.
The work this fall is focused on observing and recording the fall covey call counts and monitoring the predator scent stations placed around the farm.
The study site at Chino Farms is the first of three. The second study site is nearby at Turner’s Creek Farm in Kennedyville, Maryland, while the third is Pine Island Cranberry Company in Burlington County, New Jersey. These sites are especially important to the study because of the devastation to the quail population in this region caused by the extreme winter weather four years ago.
“In 2010 we had two severe snowstorms in February that decimated the population in this region,” Small says. “On the farm in particular, approximately 95 percent of the birds died. They were buried in snow, couldn’t find food, and then were just picked off by predators.”
Since then, the bobwhite population on Chino has rebounded thanks to milder winters and good nesting success. And wildlife and land managers have worked hard to create more diverse and abundant habitat that bobwhites need, including more woody cover that would protect from snow and more brood covering for the nestlings to forage in.
“We’ve been trying to provide areas of successional habitat that we manage from one year to the next, so it doesn’t grow up to mature forest but provides birds a difference in habitat between grasslands and forest, which is very important for quail,” Small says. “The only reason such a project can take place here in Queen Anne’s County and on Chino in particular is because of all the work that has been done over the years to provide this habitat.”
Nearby areas, however, have not done as well, and good numbers at Chino don’t translate to repopulation elsewhere. Quail spend their entire lives in a very small area, generally not moving more than a mile. In the south, Small says, Terhune has successfully restored quail on adjacent properties; to accomplish the same here, and thus help restore the population region-wide, will be another critical measure of the experiment’s success or failure.
—Brian Klose ’17