Growing up in the country, there were sights and sounds I became accustomed to never thinking these would ever fade from the landscape. There were birds we took for granted, birds that have seemed to fade away over the years.
One is the shrike, or butcher-bird as we called them. They’re colored a lot like our mockingbirds but have totally different habits. Mockingbirds feed on insects, seeds and berries. Shrike feed on lizards, frogs and small rodents they catch with their hooked beaks and sometimes hang what they catch on the barbs of a fence to enjoy later. I have not seen one of these birds in years.
Another is the meadow lark, a bird we knew as field lark. They sported a coat of mottled brown with a distinct golden chest marked by a black vee over the gold. They spend their time feeding on insects in fields and like to sit on fence posts with their distinctive whistle call. Again, this is another bird that has escaped my sight for the past several years.
Another bird has all but disappeared. I’d love to be able to see a shrike or a meadow lark but I’d be super thrilled if I was out for a walk and heard the distinctive clear ringing “Bob WHITE” of a bobwhite quail.
These game birds enjoyed decades of popularity as species to hunt and provide some of the best eating of any wild game. Folks fed their pointers and setters all year long for the chance to see these special dogs work for a month when their noses were filled with scent of a covey of quail. Few sights in the outdoors can rival a bird dog running, sniffing the air and then suddenly come to a complete halt, frozen in one position where the covey is located. Nothing is more thrilling than to walk up behind the dogs on point, step forward and the covey explodes from underfoot, causing heart palpitations to increase and giving you about two seconds to find one in your shotgun sight.
I mentioned quail problems on my Facebook page as my topic for my radio program this week and the responses from those who read it were instantaneous. So many comments were like mine; they had not heard or seen a quail in years and sorely missed hearing and seeing them. Others pointed toward loss of habitat, predators and fire ants as being the source of the problem.
Austin Klais is Conservation Delivery Coordinator for the Mississippi Valley Joint Venture with the focus on enlisting property owner’s involvement in attempting to bring back quail to areas where they formerly lived.
“Quail have been hit by so many different directions. Predators and fire ants are problems for sure but the main thing that will help their numbers increase is habitat management,” said Klais.
“The purpose of our Arkansas-Louisiana Open Pine Landscape Restoration program is to enlist property owners to enroll in the program to enhance habitat and as a result to help quail have everything they need to survive.”
Property owners who enlist in the program will be involved in putting in fire breaks, have controlled burns to remove undergrowth and undesirable trees such as sweet gum and elm.
We asked Klais how long after enlisting in the program and following guidelines before positive results can be expected.
“Usually after thinning and the first burn, we have been successful in quail showing up on the property. We’ve seen quail show up we didn’t know were there,” he said.
To learn more and to enlist your property in the program, contact your local National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office. The office in Ruston is located at 1412 Celebrity Drive. Phone number is 319/255-3136. Deadline for signing up is February 16.