Impacts of Predators on Northern Bobwhites in the Southeast
The northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) is an important game bird that is intensively managed for hunting recreation in the southeastern United States. Despite interest regionwide, populations have been declining for much of the last 40 years (Brennan 1999). Population declines in the Southeast have occurred as a result of widespread habitat loss associated with land-use changes (Brennan 1999). These land-use changes include both conversion from agricultural to forest landscapes and changes in forest management practices, which result in dense forest canopies that shade required ground vegetation (Brennan 1999, Rollins and Carroll 2001). In addition, low-quality habitats may predispose bobwhites to high rates of predation, resulting in accelerated rates of population decline (Rollins 1999, Rollins and Carroll 2001, Cook 2004).
Although both avian and mammalian predator populations have increased across the bobwhite’s southern territory at the same time that bobwhite populations have declined, focus on mammalian predators appears to be greatest. This group of species, often called mesomammalian predators (medium-size carnivores) are known to be major predators of bobwhites and of their nests (Stoddard 1931, Rollins and Carroll 2001). In general, these predators include coyotes (Canis latrans), bobcats (Felis rufus), raccoons (Procyon lotor), opossums (Didelphis marsupialis), nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Decreases in hunting and trapping, due to declining fur markets, and beneficial land-use changes have resulted in increased predator abundance, with some species reaching historically high densities across the Southeast (Peoples et al. 1995).