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A Banner Year For Texas Bobwhites

Northern Bobwhite

It’s the nature of conservation that we often spend the bulk of our time discussing bad news. Even when a tone of hope or optimism brightens the mood, preserving animals in danger of extinction is often rife with difficult conversations. Numbers are often bleak, efforts often feel like they can never be enough. It can be emotionally challenging to engage with on a regular basis. But, the happy fact is that conservation can and does work. Conservation projects like Maine’s “Project Puffin,” and the California Condor Recovery Program continue, sometimes painfully slowly, to yield positive results. And the proof is in the pudding for some species. The Peregrine Falcon is a great example. In the 1970s, these birds reached the brink of extinction. In the ensuing decades, conservation efforts were so successful that these majestic raptors are now listed as having a conservation status of “Least Concern;” a monumental victory.

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Still, most victories are small and slow. In Texas, population trends for several quail species can be seen as indicative of the health of the hot dry Texas prairies. The Northern Bobwhite is the best example of this. Since the 1960s, the Northern Bobwhite’s Texas population has plummeted by 85%, this outpaces the estimated 53% decline in grassland birds in the entire United States since the 1970s. Despite this, and despite being listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, Northern Bobwhite’s remain popular game birds for Texas hunters.

the ethics of hunting a Near Threatened species may seem murky, but I would caution against making hasty judgements. Much of the conservation efforts that have restored Northern Bobwhite populations to Texas have come from ranch and landowners working to create suitable habitats to grow Bobwhite populations and attract hunters. There is an intimate link between Texas bobwhite conservation and hunting.

Furthermore, the quality of a hunting season can be a valuable source of insight into the population health of a particular bird. This year’s Northern Bobwhite hunting season was not expected to be a good one. Much of Texas experienced record high temperatures this summer as well as record low rainfall. In spite of this, reports indicate that the 2023 Northern Bobwhite season is the best since 2018-2019. This is thought to be largely due to favorable weather conditions early in the breeding season that allowed the birds to breed early outpace the onset of harsher weather.

The proper management of land, destruction of invasive plant species, and propagation of native plants are likely paying off to some degree this season, and it is hoped that 2024 sees another strong year for the recovering Northern Bobwhite.

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