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Local quail population has dropped by nearly 80 percent

Leonna Heuring
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DEXTER — Throughout the 1970s Bruce Eskew admits he didn’t have too much trouble finding quail to hunt in Stoddard County.

Flash forward 30 years later, and the Dexter resident says the once abundant population of bobwhite quail has dropped by nearly 80 percent.

“The bobwhite quail are just leaving us — it’s unbelievable how many birds aren’t here,” Eskew said. “And it’s not just this area, it’s nationwide.”

But the decline in quail population isn’t something Eskew, his fellow hunters and other concerned residents are taking lightly. The group of about 50 — and counting — looks to “Bring back the Bobwhite” by organizing a Quail Unlimited Inc. chapter in Southeast Missouri.

“We’re losing all of our quail habitats and basically we have to recover what we can,” Eskew noted. “The habitat we’ve got is not suitable for quail and we’re trying to turn that around.”

Quail Unlimited is a national organization dedicated to improving upland game habitat for quail, rabbits, doves and numerous non-game species such as grassland songbirds and others.

On Thursday, those interested will gather at 7 p.m. at the Elks Club in Dexter, where a regional representative from Quail Unlimited will be on hand to answer questions.

Eskew and others in the area are working with the Missouri Department of Conservation and other local organizations to reverse the current status of quail habitats.

One of the causes for the loss in habitats is fescue, Eskew said. Years ago the then-Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service offices required layout ground to be planted with fescue, he pointed out.

“Of course fescue is the No. 1 nemesis for quail,” Eskew said. “Quail just can’t survive on fescue because there’s no food source for them and plus the young quail hatched can’t move around.”

Insects are also important factors when it comes to the quail population.

“Once a quail hatches, it has to have insects to live. Insects can’t live in fescue, they like the broad leaves so we need to plant the mixes quail thrive on and put some food plots out on the land,” Eskew explained. Farm chemicals may also play a role in quail numbers, Eskew noted.

While other bird hunters, and farmers, too, have been receptive to the idea of the Quail Unlimited chapter forming, Eskew said the change in farming practices over the years has created a challenge for reforming quail habitat. “It’s a hard battle to win because as you know farmers are bigger and better at what they do these days, and naturally if you’re a big farmer, you don’t need the fence rows and you keep the ditches mowed,” Eskew said.

More fence rows and larger ditches filled with growing natural weeds for the quail to feed on and to hide from predators are some changes quail hunters would like to see. In addition to the number of birds dropping to all-time lows, the number of quail hunters has fallen, too, Eskew said. In Missouri alone, the 300,000 quail hunters have plummeted to 80,000.

“There’s so much we can do, but we’re such a small voice. Nationally, we’re (Quail Unlimited) is a pretty small voice versus Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation,” Eskew said.

Unlike deer, turkey and ducks, very little emphasis is placed on quail, Eskew said.

The possible chapter formation has drawn a lot of interest — and not just in Stoddard County, Eskew said. People from towns like Van Buren, New Madrid and Sikeston are inquiring about the chapter, he said.

Those interested in seeing a chapter form in the area have met a couple times before, but it’s Thursday’s meeting, Eskew said, that will ultimately decide the fate of a chapter.

While Eskew and others hope to bring back the bobwhite, he also knows it will take some time.

“The habitats have left us, but what we’re looking at happened over years, and it won’t change overnight,” Eskew said. “We might never change it, but we’re going to try.” For more information about Quail Unlimited forming in Southeast Missouri, contact Eskew at (573) 624-8810.

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