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Northern Bobwhites Reintroduced in West Virginia

Northern Bobwhite

The Northern Bobwhite has the unlikely distinction of being one of the most studied species of bird in the world. This species of game bird is often referred to as a “bobwhite quail” or simply as quail. Because of its status as a very popular game bird, human interactions with bobwhites as well as bobwhite population trends have been the subject of scrutiny for decades. Since the 1970s, however, this bird has experienced a sharp decline which has caused it to largely disappear from habitats where it had once been remarkably common.

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West Virginia, one such habitat where the bobwhite was once plentiful but is no largely absent, is trying to fix this. West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice, has publicly lamented the disappearance of the bobwhite whose calls he fondly remembers hearing throughout his youth.

Now, in 2022, Governor Justice’s administration is trying to bring back the Northern Bobwhite which once thrived in the mountainous state of West Virginia. According to the website of the office of the governor:

“Through the Governor’s Quail Stocking Initiative, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) will stock over 20,000 birds at Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) across the state. To date, the DNR has already stocked over 12,000 Bobwhite Quail, and will continue stocking from August through October, weather and habitat conditions permitting.”

Image taken by Wikimedia Commons user BS Thurner Hof and shared under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Currently, the captivity-raised bobwhites are being released in seven separate locations with the hope that the birds will establish a breeding population which might successfully repopulate the region. Older West Virginia residents may one day recapture the whistling call which was the backdrop of many of these landscapes before the birds disappeared.

The program, which is said to cost no more than five dollars per bird, is being received well publicly by a population that seems excited to give the bobwhite an enthusiastic “welcome home.”

Unfortunately, these reintroduced bobwhites do face much of the same perils, if not more, as those which caused their predecessors to decline so sharply. The shrubby landscapes which bobwhites need to thrive have been disappearing for decades as land management practices rid the landscape of weeds and thickets. Balancing traditional land management practices with creating an environment that is hospitable enough to house this new population of bobwhites will be West Virginia’s next challenge.

In order to track the success of their efforts, conservation workers have fitted some of the newly released bobwhites with transmitter which will track their movements, monitor their survival rates, and give conservationists insight into their behaviors. On top of this, cameras have been mounted in the areas where the bobwhites have been released, in the hopes that their progress can be watched and reported.

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