According to Billy Dukes, Small Game Project Supervisor with SCDNR, bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) are considered a game bird in South Carolina but are considered a species of concern due to population declines over the past several decades statewide. Though several surveys have been conducted that show the decline rate at 4.5-5% per year over several decades, these surveys assess at a very large scale and do not detect "local" or smaller scale population changes.
Quail has declined because they lay their eggs on the ground. Most birds lay their eggs in trees and are able to use the tree's foliage as camouflage. Laying their eggs on the ground makes quail easy targets for ants, snakes, and many predatory birds. These predatory birds have made a large increase in numbers over the years. In the 1960's, there were as few as 13 breeding pairs of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) left in the state of SC when they were placed on the Endangered Species list by the federal government. I am proud to say that there are now about 300 breeding pairs, well above the 200-pair goal that was a state target in the recovery effort.
Having been out in the field for the past 5+ years, I had observed a decline in quail population/sightings as well- until recently. Within the past year several of my colleagues and I have witnessed what seemed to be more than typical quail sightings in specific areas of SC. This made me curious about the quail populations in the state and why my sightings of them have increased over the past 12 or so months.
After speaking with Mr. Dukes, he confirmed to me that while the population has decreased on a wide scale, there are some areas, especially specific properties of the state, which have a stable quail population. There are other areas where quail have actually increased over the past few years. This statement lines up with what I have observed in the field.
According to Mr. Dukes: “The best places to hunt quail in SC tend to be in the upper coastal plain in areas where row-crop agriculture is the predominate land use. For SC, that means the Pee Dee, Sumter, Florence, Marion, Dillon, Lee, and Williamsburg counties. Other upper coastal plain counties like Orangeburg, Clarendon, and Bamberg would also be better than the lower coastal plain or Piedmont. However, through intensive habitat management huntable quail population numbers can be maintained on individual properties just about anywhere in the state”.
Here are my own noted quail sightings and areas within the past year :
August/September 2010- Williamsburg County- two coveys (each containing appx.20-25 birds)
August/September 2010- near Ehrhardt, SC-Bamberg County
September 2010- one covey in Cope, SC -Orangeburg County
September 2010- two coveys in Wolfton, SC- Orangeburg County
August 31st, 2011- just last week- I ran upon a covey in Branchville, SC- also Orangeburg County. I took a picture of a lone quail in a tree (see bottom of this blog for picture).
Recommended websites for further information are: The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (www.bringbackbobwhites.org) and information available on the DNR website http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/species/quail.html and http://www.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/Northernbobwhite.pdf.
Thank you to Mr. Billy Dukes at SCDNR for his helpful information and insight.
*If you are ever in the area of James Island, SC, and would like to see a real eagle's nest, go to Bayview Soccer Fields at 1045 Fort Johnson Road. In the far right corner of the rear soccer field you will see a nest. In this exact location I have personally witnessed eagles soaring and also bringing food to their chicks in the nest.*
Please report any sightings you have had in my comments section of my blog.