From the Michigan Audubon Society
The Northern Bobwhite is an important and historically interesting bird to Michigan. The Northern Bobwhite, also known as the quail, is a non-migratory ground-dwelling bird found primarily in the Southeastern Lower Peninsula (SLP). While the Bobwhite is more common in southern and eastern states and Mexico, Michigan serves as its northern range.
The bird gets its name from is distinctive whistle, “bob white!” It is a small chicken like bird that stands around 9-12 inches tall and weighs an average of six ounces. The males tend to be larger than the females and are more vibrantly colored, although both genders share tones of brown, buff and grey.
The Northern Bobwhite is the only species of quail in Michigan. This species has struggled with population growth and in the 1970s saw a dramatic decline in numbers, up to 90 percent in some ranges. Major contributors to population decline include the industrialized farming industry and severe winter conditions.
Industrialized farming ridded the bobwhites of their habitat by turning small family farms into large corporate farms, removing habitat variety. Bobwhites stay within 0.5-1 mile of their natal area and prefer early successional habitats, including active and fallow crop fields, pastures, old fields, native grasslands, hedgerows, brushy fencerows and woodlands with grass and forb ground cover. Since they are non-migratory birds, severe winters have a huge impact on population numbers. Without proper habitat cover, many bobwhites fall victim to freezing temperatures and large snowfalls.
Management of Northern Bobwhites has been implemented in many states. In Michigan, private landowners hold 97 percent of the bobwhite’s range.
Management plans and milder winters have helped numbers steadily grow in the last few decades. Proper management allows Michigan to still have a hunting season for Northern Bobwhites. The season lasts roughly three weeks from mid-November to mid-December in only 27 counties in the SLP. “Interestingly enough, this is Michigan’s only Red List [near threatened] bird that is a game species and has a hunting season,” explains Tom Funke, Michigan Audubon’s Conservation Director.
While the bird is elusive by nature, population growth has increased sightings in Michigan and has demonstrated that effective management and research does pay off. Hopefully soon the Northern Bobwhite can go from a red listed, near threatened species, to a species of least concern.