For many years, Georgia has been known as the “Quail Capital of the World.” This title was justified by the state’s excellent population of wild Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), or bobwhite quail. The early colonials called them partridges and some still refer to them as “pah-tidges” today. As the colony of Georgia was settled, small farms and clearing increased and the settlers continued to burn the woods off each year just as the Indians had done before. Georgia’s high quail population resulted from these low intensity agriculture and forestry practices that were commonly applied throughout most of the state, especially during the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. While no one knows when quail became a popular game bird, it was likely in the 1800s with the invention of the scattergun. In the early 1900s, Georgia became known as the quail capital of the world and in 1970, the bobwhite quail was designated as Georgia’s official state game bird. However, as quail hunters and other wildlife conservationists know, quail populations throughout the U.S. and Georgia have declined dramatically. Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Breeding Bird Survey indicate that from 1966 to 2018, Georgia’s quail population declined by more than 72% (Figure 1, Appendix). This decline has led to a reduction in the number of quail hunters and quail harvest. In 1962, an estimated 135,000 hunters harvested about 4 million quail in Georgia, but by 2019, the number of hunters had declined to 12,742, and the reported quail harvest to about 279,291 (Figure 2, Appendix)—with nine out of ten being pen-raised birds. Quail populations have declined dramatically due to the significant loss of quality habitat and a variety of land-use changes. Compounding landscape level changes, such as “clean farming” practices, larger agricultural fields, increased use of agricultural pesticides and conversion of farmland and native rangeland to exotic grass pastures have resulted in a precipitous decline. In addition, increased acreage in intensively managed short rotation pine plantations, decreased use of prescribed fire and increased urbanization have all led to the loss of habitat connectivity (Photo 1). Quail in Georgia will likely never return to the widespread abundance experienced in the early 1900s, but their numbers have increased in many areas due to improved management. The good news is that more is known about managing bobwhite quail than any other upland game bird. The first step to improving habitat conditions for quail is developing a management plan that considers the entire life history of the bobwhite relative to the current habitat conditions. To increase quail populations, management practices must address the factor that is most limiting the quail population in each situation. For example, planting food plots to increase fall foods will not result in more birds if the limiting factor is brood habitat.
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