AMES, Iowa – In much of the Midwest, including Iowa, bobwhite quail and other resident birds have seen their populations decline because of a loss of suitable winter habitat like blackberry and raspberry shrubs. Despite limited food opportunities and cover, these birds are still active in Iowa – for those who know where to look.
Adam Janke, assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State University, shares his first-hand encounter with a covey of bobwhite quail in the January issue of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Acreage Living Newsletter.
This issue of the newsletter also includes information on the new veterinary feed directive, soil health in vegetable production crops, winter health for horses, winter care for birds and specialty crop insurance.
Winter habitat for many critters is crucial to their survival and persistence on farms and acreages all across Iowa. For wildlife, winter means long, cold nights, decreased availability of cover to escape predators, and challenges in finding what remains of last summer’s crop of weed, grain and tree foods. The crops have all been harvested. The trees and shrubs have lost their leaves. The grasses and weeds have died back. Simply stated, winter is a lean time for resident birds like wild turkeys, pheasants, and quail and other critters like white-tailed deer and cottontail rabbits.
“Attentive investigation of the habits of our resident wildlife is possible by finding evidence left behind during feeding, loafing and roosting,” Janke said. “As you walk your land this winter, pay close attention to the snow to find tracks left behind during movements from feeding to resting areas or scratchings in the surface of the snow to access preferred food sources like waste grain or acorns.”
Careful collection of information on the habits of winter residents will yield insights into the types of habitats wildlife need most during winter. Evidence of bobwhites or pheasants may be found around shrubby or brushy areas, or the tracks of pheasants going in and out of dense patches of reeds, cattails or grasses used for safety from predators and refuge from the wind and cold.
“Areas with leftover standing grain crops or weedy areas along field edges and woodlot openings should also reveal frequent use,” Janke said. “The ground under oak trees with a strong acorn crop will reveal the busy activities of deer, turkeys and squirrels.”
And the covey of bobwhite quail Janke saw in the wild?
“Other than the shrubs from which they erupted, the prints that alerted me to their presence were surrounding a few rows of beans planted too close to the tree line and thus not accessible by the combine during harvest,” Janke said. “It served as a simple reminder of the industrious habits of these fascinating birds and the importance of having food above the snow line close to shrubby cover if bobwhites are to survive the long winter.”