Bobwhite Bird Population Shrinking< < Back to
The Bobwhite is named for the "bob-white" call of the male bird, native to Ohio and a year-round resident in many areas of the state.
Well, it used to be a resident.
These days the Bobwhite – or Northern Bobwhite to be entirely accurate – is dwindling in numbers. "The range has shrunk, if you will, to the southwestern, probably 18 to 20 counties," says Bob Gates, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University.
"You will get records and people will talk about hearing the bobwhite in many areas of the state, and I think that's a combination of just a few coveys that might be hanging on also people also release bobwhites to restore the population and to hunt them and that sort of thing," Gates explained. "When we say that they are basically gone from most areas of the state that doesn't mean, necessarily, every single bird. For all practical purposes, we don't really have any viable populations left, except in southwestern 18 to 20 counties."
Gates and other researchers at Ohio State are working to help the Bobwhite come back. "Our landowners are particularly open and responsive, I think, to some of these practices because we've told them that they lie within the core of the range and they basically hold the future of bobwhites in Ohio in their hands. We've tried to work down there in southwestern Ohio, particularly in Highland County and some of the surrounding areas, because that's where we see the strongest populations. And once we get this message over to these landowners, I think they really do care the presence of bobwhites on their property," said Gates.
The come-back key, says Gates, is improving the birds' habitat.
To better understand what needs to be done, it'e important to understand the reason why Bobwhite numbers have crashed in Ohio.
"The biggest thing has been land use changes were intensified, simple agriculture focused on corn and soybean rotations, large fields, and also, just the maturation of woodlots and woody habitats have not been favorable for bobwhites. So that, combined with when we get severe winters, such as we had two years ago, in the winter of 2009 was hard on our study population, so when you get these hard winters, they experience poor survival. Our study would indicate that given the rates of survival and nesting productivity that we're seeing, it's hard to see how they're going to continue, even in southwestern Ohio say 10 or 20 years from now," said Gates.
Gates' research team is developing new recommendations for managing land for Bobwhites.
These are practices that improve the birds' survival and nesting success, especially on agricultural lands.
"We kind of look at this as kind of a low footprint, especially the edge feathering: going in and working with existing woody cover, trying to improve it. We're not necessarily talking about taking more land out of production, necessarily, agriculture production, that is, and actually having to purchase or do things on large areas of habitat that we feel like the first thing we can do is improve these edges on small areas. And actually, there may be some potential benefit to agricultural production because usually the first few rows of crops next to woods don't produce well anyway.So really what we're advocating is creating more early successional habitat, along edges, perhaps encouraging farmers to leave a few rows of corn or soybean, or any kind of grain, near those edges so the birds can hide in the shrubby areas and then move a short distance to feed during those winter periods. They're just not quite as vulnerable to mortality factors such as predation from hawks and that sort of thing."
Gates and his team have started sharing their findings in farmer and landowner workshops. Information is also available through Ohio State University Extension.