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State of the Birds Report

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Resident Game Birds


At a Glance        

• Half of the resident game birds in the U.S. (11 of 19 species) have more than 50% of their distributions on private lands; 7 species have greater than 80% distribution on private lands.

• Private lands support 97% of the distribution of Northern Bobwhite and 94% of the distribution of Greater Prairie-Chicken.

• Policies are needed to ensure federal conservation efforts do not provide taxpayer subsidies for land practices harmful to resident game and nongame birds.

• Game birds are excellent indicators of the health of habitats and larger communities of nongame birds and wildlife.

• Game bird conservation
initiatives help garner the financial support necessary for private
landowners to implement conservation-friendly practices
on their lands.

Image: Sharp-tailed Grouse by Gerrit Vyn  
I hope through my habitat efforts, my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren can come to the farm and still enjoy hearing the bobwhite's call.
Ray Prebe, Participant in Bee Ridge Quail Focus Area Conservation Initiative, Knox County, Missouri

Resident Game Birds on Private Lands

Private lands play an important role in providing habitat for resident game birds: 11 of 19 resident game birds in the U.S. have more than 50% of their distributions on private lands. Seven species have greater than 80% of their distributions on private lands, including Northern Bobwhite (97%) and Greater Prairie-Chicken (94%).

Game birds are excellent indicators of the health of their habitats, and habitat restoration on behalf of game birds often benefits larger bird communities. For example, under the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement provision of the Farm Bill's Conservation Reserve Program Continuous Sign-up, upland grass areas on farmlands preserved as Greater Prairie-Chicken habitat have also benefitted Grasshopper Sparrows and Upland Sandpipers.

Conservation Successes 

Another Farm Bill CRP Continuous Sign-up provision, Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds, focuses on population recovery goals for Northern Bobwhite. The provision, also called CP33, exemplifies highly efficient private lands conservation compatible with agricultural production. CP33 provides financial incentives to landowners to establish habitat buffers of native grasses for quail around the field edges of croplands. Incentive funds compensate farmers for establishing grasses on marginal parts of fields that are the least productive for growing crops. Farmers also see benefits from reduced soil erosion, and their communities see the benefit of improved water quality from reduced agrichemical run-off from crop fields. Birds have shown significant positive responses to the program. Follow-up monitoring on fields with habitat buffers showed Northern Bobwhite breeding densities up to twice as high as densities on row-crop fields without buffers. Densities of Dickcissel and Field Sparrow were also up to twice as high on buffered fields.

Resident Game Bird Distribution 

Private lands are important habitat for resident game birds, such as Wild Turkey with 87% distribution on private lands. Six other game bird species have distributions on private lands greater than 80%. Wild Turkey by John Ritchey.

The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative has worked to implement CP33 and create almost 250,000 acres of habitat buffers on private croplands across 26 states. NBCI is an example of how conservation organizations can coordinate with state wildlife agencies and work across regional boundaries to identify and prioritize needs for sustaining a game bird species. Of 19 species of resident game birds, 7 species have organized groups like NBCI advocating for conservation on their behalf. Another such group, the National Wild Turkey Federation, has conserved more than 17 million acres of habitat over the past 40 years.


Photo by Laurel M. Barnhill 

Conservation Challenges

Some federal programs subsidize both the restoration of native grasslands and the use of nonnative grasses. For example, the Farm Bill's Environmental Quality Incentives Program may fund eradication of aggressive introduced grasses to restore native grasslands, while also funding the establishment of aggressive introduced grasses, such as fescue, for pasture or buffer practices. Introduced grasses typically provide poor habitat for grassland bird species such as Northern Bobwhite. A native grassland policy equivalent to the current policy of “no net loss of wetlands” would preclude federal agencies from providing public subsidies for practices harmful to native grassland habitats.

Another challenge is the intermittent funding for private lands biologists who provide technical assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to landowners. These positions are not guaranteed year-to-year, yet they play a vital role in management prescriptions for private landowners enhancing habitat for resident game and nongame birds. These biologists are often employed by creative partnerships of federal Farm Bill funding with state agencies and conservation groups. More funding is needed to ensure consistent technical support to landowners for private lands conservation.

Funding also must be maintained for programs that clearly demonstrate economic and conservation success. The Farm Bill's Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) provides payments to private landowners in exchange for habitat enhancement and public access for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related recreation. VPA-HIP funding was eliminated in 2012, even though every taxpayer dollar VPA-HIP invested into landowner agreements in 2011 returned about $2 in spending by recreational users—generating more than $18 million for rural communities. VPAHIP can only be fully restored through Farm Bill reauthorization.

There is also a continuing need to utilize the best science and unite game and nongame bird conservation programs to maximize benefits for entire suites of birds and wildlife. The Intermountain West Joint Venture is incorporating data and distribution models from the 2011 State of the Birds Report to coordinate conservation projects in areas where sage-grouse management can benefit other sagebrush birds, such as Brewer’s Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, and Green-tailed Towhee. This type of integrated, science-based habitat management maximizes private and public dollars for conservation.

Bringing Back Bobwhites at Bee Ridge 

Northern Bobwhites have declined 80% over the past 40 years. But in northeastern Missouri, these quail are prospering, thanks to an innovative public–private partnership.

Over the last decade landowners in Knox County have joined with Quail Forever and the Missouri Department of Conservation to create the 12,000-acre Bee Ridge Quail Focus Area. Inside the QFA boundaries, participating farmers utilized cost-sharing and technical assistance—as well as financial incentives from CRP's CP33 Upland Birds Initiative—to create grass buffers around crop fields.

So far, 21 miles of 60-feet wide habitat buffers have been created in the Bee Ridge QFA. Bobwhite survey counts are four times higher here than surrounding areas. Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, and Indigo Bunting counts are higher as well.

"Thanks to the focus area program and some neighbors who have the same goals, the results are more quail. In just a few years you can see the difference, and so can your dog," said landowner David McGinnis.

"The Bee Ridge QFA shows what landowners can accomplish when they band together to improve quail habitat on working lands," said Tom Dailey, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative assistant director. 



Grass habitat buffer for Northern Bobwhites along crop field in Missouri. Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation.


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