For the birds: Game bird restoration at the heart of quest

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The calls and answers of the bobwhite quail – the unofficial mascot of the outdoors in the South, have led one wildlife biologist through a long series of hoops – but his work along the way is showing major results.
John Gruchy, a wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks since 2007, has worked in cooperation with the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and other groups to restore quail populations to their 1980 levels.
Through education, prescribed burning, replanting of native prairie grasses and inspired cooperation of landowners interested in returning quail to their property, his work and that of countless others has begun to show real results.
“The bobwhite is a good representative of how we’ve used the land,” Gruchy said. “Previously, we didn’t have cattle herds the size they are now, and we didn’t have row crops that extended end to end and edge to edge on the land they occupy, clean farming so to speak.
“In all cases, fields were bordered by wide fence rows that supported quail, rabbits and other non-game species in their natural habitat.
Work benefits many species
“When we go in and make habitat restorations, it’s impactful across a broad range of bird spectrums.”
Birds like field larks, grasshopper sparrows, Henslow’s sparrows and others use the same habitat occupied by quail. They all nest on the ground and feed on seeds and bugs common to native grassland undergrowth.
When the grasslands are removed to make way for more rows of soybeans, or when the grasslands are allowed to grow unchecked to become sweet gum thickets, the conditions quail and other birds need to thrive are removed.
By restoring field edges to conditions that promote native grass growth, and by keeping this and other areas continually renewed through regular prescribed burning, land managers call the quail back as surely as a covey’s gathering whistle.
“What prescribed burning promotes is early successional habitat,” Gruchy said. “After a cutover has been made, that’s good turkey, rabbit, quail habitat. On a larger tract of land, making that kind of habitat occur at different spots on the habitat at different times is a key part of management.”
Gruchy’s restoration efforts have taken place at a variety of locations statewide and early encouraging success has been seen particularly in Monroe and Prentiss Counties.
“Where we’ve put in habitat since 2004, in treatment areas with bobwhite buffers, we’re counting twice to four times as many bobwhites as are found in neighboring unmanaged area,” Gruchy said. “In many places, there are independent landowners who’ve dedicated their property to maximum bobwhite production, and they’re seeing up to 10 times the number of quail found in unmanaged areas nearby.”
For more information about prescribed burning or quail restoration, contact Gruchy at 662-274-1050 or go online to www.mdwfp.com