Foraging on the ground near a dense wooded thicket or obscured by the shrubs, forbs, and native prairie grasses in its northern range, an individual or a covey of 20 or more quail could easily go unseen by a passerby.

The amazing and well camouflaged Northern bobwhite quail is less often seen and more frequently heard when finally its’ presence is announced with that famous clear, rich, whistle that sounds just like its name “Bob-White!” In fact, those most recognized and predictable whistles of the Northern bobwhite are counted at certain times of the year by biologists, citizen scientists, researchers and landowners.

Using the collected data in set formulas is one method to determine the population of bobwhites on a piece of property. The Northern bobwhite quail has struggled across its range, which is much of the eastern half of the United States, including Illinois. Throughout the years, harvest records from the IDNR have shown a sharp decrease in bobwhite numbers from the 1950s through 2017.

A number of reasons for the decline of quail populations in Illinois have been identified. According to a document published by Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “The Bobwhite in Illinois: Its Past, Present and Future,” primitive farming in Illinois actually benefited the Northern bobwhite quail.

Hedgerows, fallowing and crop rotation provided both cover and food for the quail. Advances in modern intense agricultural practices, the clearing of cover, and the increased use of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides has had a negative impact on the Northern bobwhite quail. The flat farmland in north-central and east-central Illinois, where intense row crop agriculture is practiced, has become void of the required habitat for a sustainable quail population.

Human expansion also has taken a toll on quail habitat. Areas that once held quail habitat are turned into shopping centers, home sites and sports fields. Management programs to benefit the quail continue to be a challenge for biologists, the complexity of a fragile species, and the human influence on the Northern bobwhite quail that has changed a landscapes has left little room for this remarkable bird.

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