Today is National Wildlife Day, September 4th. It’s been a tradition since 2006, founded by Colleen Paige, to remember Steve Irwin. It is a day to enhance your own awareness of endangered animal species and also to celebrate efforts and accomplishments that are being made in animal sanctuaries and preservation. Some ways to celebrate include volunteering or otherwise supporting local no-kill shelters and sanctuaries, and supporting organizations such as the Humane Society and World Wildlife Fund.
In honor of National Wildlife Day, I’m going to impart to you some information about the Masked Bobwhite Quail. It is the only quail in the United States to be considered endangered. These birds live in southern Arizona, where I live, and is one of the first local animals I learned about when we moved to Arizona. It isn’t common to see them around, though from time to time you can find a family in natural areas and, very infrequently, in the bushes next to the sidewalk.
These quails are social birds, seasonally. They flock to groups during cool weather and stay in them until June. These groups are called coveys. The coveys are usually five to fifteen individuals, and consist of young birds and those who have been separated from their broods. During the summer, the covey breaks into breeding pairs, generally until late July, when the mating season begins. Chicks continue to hatch into November.
Masked bobwhite quails nest on the ground, and so require heavy brush coverage to protect both them and their young. Their natural habitat is typically scrub brush land in the Sonora desert. Cattle grazing has severely threatened their habitat, and even caused them to disappear in the United States in the early 1900’s. The cattle removed not only growing vegetation from the ground, which provides cover for the birds, but also removed and displaces seeds for new vegetation. These seeds also comprise part of the quails’ diet.
In the mid-1900’s, efforts were made to introduce the Masked Bobwhite Quail back into nature, though these attempts were unsuccessful because they were released into environments which were unsuitable for them. Scientists recognized the issue and, in the 60’s and 70’s, began again to try and release them into a natural habitat. Unfortunately, though, their actual habitat was unknown and several groups were released in different areas to try and pinpoint where they are meant to be living. Most of these birds were preyed upon by coyotes and did not make it.
In 1985, at last, the US Fish and Wildlife Service created the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. Here, there are breeding programs and attempts at re-establishment. This past winter, there was a large-scale release at Buenos Aires reserve. Birds from Mexico have been brought to the United States to begin breeding and reintroduction programs here.
New re-introduction techniques used by the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge are clever and interesting. Generally, masked bobwhites are released in family groups into scrub brush environments, consisting of young and a “foster parent”. The foster parent is usually a male Texas bobwhite incapable of reproduction. This parent teaches the masked bobwhite chicks to find food and other survival skills. This technique protects the breeding pairs and still introduces the endangered quails back into the wild.
Buenos Aires’ recovery plan includes maintaining a sustainable masked bobwhite population within the nest decade. This means that there should be at least two populations in southern Arizona, and another two in Mexico. They are working with the Mexican government to introduce these two groups and also to protect and grow current Mexican populations. A healthy group of quails consisted of approximately 500 birds.
You can learn more about the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge’s work with Masked Bobwhite Quails here and read about and support all of their work here. They are currently conducting a survey for the masked bobwhite, so if you have seen one, be sure to report it to them. They are mapping habitats and populations.
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I hope all of you are having a great National Wildlife Day, and also that in the years to come, work to help save and protect our animal friends will be needed less and less, because there are fewer endangered species. This is a comprehensive list of all the species who are still endangered. Let’s all work together to help reduce it.
Join us on Friday for some good news about the reduction of plastic bags in the United States and what you can do to further contribute to the progress. Until then, goodbye.