UNT professor conserving the Texas quail population

The Northern Bobwhite quail is a valuable bird to the Texas ecosystem. UNT Quail Director, Dr. Kelly Reyna said that quail are excellent indicators of healthy grasslands, which provide “eco-system services” such as soaking up water to recharge wells and aquifers, and helping clean the water and air. According to a study conducted by Reyna, Texas quail hunters can spend more than $8,000 per hunter annually- money that some rural Texas economies have come to rely on. However, the Northern Bobwhite population seems to be in decline, which has drawn the attention of many, said Dr. Reyna.

A bobwhite quail
Photo by Norman Bateman

 

Noticing this decline in Texas’ valuable quail population, Dr. Reyna created a program intended to help combat the limiting factors that have begun to cause population decline in the Northern Bobwhite quail. The program provides ranchers with an analysis of their property and regional trend information, a habitat plan and checkups that ensure proper habitat growth. These ranches create “Quail Co-ops,” or groups of ranches that are committed to doing what is necessary to keep their valuable quail population thriving. Creating larger habitats that become wild-life corridors give quail a greater chance of survival.

Dr. Kelly Reyna (center) works with Texas Parks and Wildlife to minimize the impact of hunting season on the quail species

 

Dr. Reyna said that a healthy quail habitat should be between 1,000 and 3,000 acres because quail tend to be healthiest in groups of 1,000 to 3,000 birds - ideally each bird inhabits one acre. A change in land use, such as a large property being sold to multiple land owners, causes habitat fragmentation. This fragmentation forces quail into much smaller groups, which endangers their well-being and bio-diversity. Dr. Reyna’s quail co-ops battle population decline from the inside, creating a greater chance of juvenile survival.

To continue to increase species survival, Dr. Reyna gives quail hunters the tools they need to sustain the sport they hold so dear. Dr. Reyna says that hunters generally have a connection to nature and if told how to help, they will do what’s needed to continue enjoying their sport. He said that this year many hunters self-regulated, and many of them shot quail with their camera instead of their guns. He is currently affiliated with a group of hunters that is working with Texas Parks and Wildlife to adjust the current season length and bag limit associated with quail hunting to minimize the impact of hunting season on the quail species.

By attacking the problem of quail species decline from multiple angles, Dr. Kelly Reyna is providing a larger chance of survival for a very important bird in the Texas ecosystem. Dr. Reyna is getting students involved and interested in the process by employing their help with the research and monitoring of the ranches. The future of student involvement in this project will manifest in a class, being taught for the first time at UNT in the fall,called  Wildlife Ecology and Management. The class will engage students in the history, techniques, and current issues of wildlife and ecology management, and will give students the invaluable practice of actual field experience. Dr. Reyna hopes this will encourage their concern and provide the next generation of protectors of the valuable quail population of Texas.

— Mackenzie Yelvington, UNT Sustainability