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State of the Birds Report

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Upland Game Birds

Managing Land for Upland Game Birds Helps All Birds


Northern Bobwhites have declined
by 75% during the past 40 years.
Recent Farm Bill initiatives include
goals for recovery of bobwhite
populations. Photo by Gerrit Vyn

Upland game bird hunting in the United States generated nearly $2 billion and provided recreation for nearly 3 million licensed hunters in 2006. Because management for the 19 native resident game bird species falls under the jurisdiction of state wildlife agencies, regional partnerships such as the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and North American Grouse Partnership formed so states can work together on rangewide management efforts. These efforts target landscape-level habitat changes that benefit both game and non-game species. In addition, volunteer organizations assist management efforts for resident game birds, including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and the Ruffed Grouse Society.


Cooperative partnerships have implemented landscape-level managment benefiting both game and non-game bird species.


The State of Resident Game Birds

Of 19 native resident game bird species, 47% are species of conservation concern and 2 are federally endangered. Based on the best data from a variety of sources, Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison’s Sage-Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Sooty Grouse, and Northern Bobwhite are thought to have declined by more than 50% in the last 40 years, and Scaled Quail have declined by 33%. For these species, further research is required to understand fully the limiting factors. Introduced Chukar, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Gray Partridge show stable overall populations; however their numbers are augmented by captive-breeding and release programs because of demand for recreational hunting.

Birds in Trouble

Federally listed as endangered: Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken, (Masked) Northern Bobwhite.

  • Northern Bobwhite has declined by 75% over the past 40 years because of alteration of grassland-shrub communities in pine, agricultural and grazing lands where the limiting factor is nesting and brood-rearing habitat.

  • Both Greater and Lesser prairie-chickens are highly social species that are sensitive to loss and fragmentation of native grasslands. Encroachment by osage orange, western red cedar, and invasive grasses also reduces habitat quality.

  • Despite state and federal measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate known threats, Greater Sage-Grouse continues to be threatened by the spread of invasive grass species, degradation and loss of sagebrush habitat from livestock grazing, the development of renewable energy, and the spread of West Nile virus.

  • Heavy livestock grazing and subsequent  invasions of nonnative plants have eliminated understory flowering plants and grasses from habitat used by Montezuma Quail in southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

Reasons for Hope

Ruffed Grouse by Tracy Glen

Farm Bill programs that result in the retirement of millions of acres of intensely cropped lands offer the greatest hope for the long-term management of many resident game birds. Greater Prairie-Chicken populations have benefited from the creation of core grasslands in several states, and population goals for recovery of Northern Bobwhite have been written into recent Farm Bill initiatives.

By the early 1900s, most Wild Turkey populations had been wiped out in North America. As late as the Great Depression, fewer than 30,000 Wild Turkeys remained in the entire United States. Reintroduction programs, active management, and regulated hunting have allowed the Wild Turkey population to expand to more than 7 million birds by 2008.

Sustainable forest management provides forest habitat diversity for Ruffed Grouse, which inhabit young forest.



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