There I was last week, standing just a few blocks off the Katy Trail, staring eye to eye with a species that has been in a “sharp decline throughout the past half-century”. The Northern Bobwhite, startled at first by the two dogs on leashes, quickly seemed to ignore our presence. I knew no one would believe me, so I held the dogs strong, pulled out my iphone, and managed to snap a picture.
Why was I incessant on documenting this female bobwhite in urban Dallas? This quail species has been declining in Texas for many years. Their main cause of decline is habitat loss. As Derek Broman, DFW Urban Wildlife Biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, stated, “With habitat comes everything for bobwhites – water, space, cover, food.” Northern bobwhites need a diverse habitat to survive with open areas and mixes of cover as well as water.
Dallas is within the bobwhite range but due to urban sprawl we don’t seen many in the area since the 1980s. Chris Jackson, of dfwurbanwildlife.com, remembers the days growing up in Lewisville in the 1980s, “you could pretty much count on seeing or hearing quail on a daily basis near my home.” The only recent records I found were a woman in the Lake Highlands area who reported a sighting of a bobwhite in 2013 and a sighting this year in Arlington. Jackson said “I have not received many reports of bobwhite in the metroplex.”
Bobwhites have a short life span but a high reproduction rate and can rebound quickly. A bobwhite pair (male and female) can produce 2-3 clutches (of 25 offspring or more) in a single breeding season. My one female sighting could mean more lurking nearby. Without two dogs at my side ready to pounce on the quail, I would have tried to find a nest.
In a big city such as Dallas, green space is important not only for happiness of humans, contributing value to real estate, but also to urban wildlife. There are many species of animals that used to live in this area that are adapting to a city lifestyle.
The more we are aware of what’s around us the more we will learn about it. Scientists have found a wealth of data in casual observations by the general public. With hard economic times for science research (especially wildlife) many organizations have become creative utilizing people’s eyes to gather data. You can be part of science too.
With the advances of camera phones and smart phone apps, making observations around your neighborhood has become easy. Find a plant or animal in your backyard, snap a picture, and upload it on the internet or an app. The best part is you don’t have to know what it is; people can help you identify it, so take a good picture.
Both Jackson and Broman have been utilizing iNaturalist, a free website and app where anyone can record what you see in nature. It’s easy to create an ID, post observations and join science projects. Broman’s DFW Carnivore Project on iNaturalist has yielded over 300 observations in the one year it’s been up online providing him very valuable data. While speaking to Broman, his enthusiasm for the public to get involved shines through and he looks forward to learning more about urban wildlife through the eyes of the people of our city.
My one bobwhite sighting may not tell us too much, but it does remind us to keep our eyes open. When I first saw the bobwhite, I thought maybe it was a captive raised animal. The quail could be, but the only way to solve the mystery is to be on the lookout. Get your camera phones ready, keep your eyes open, and contribute to iNaturalist so we can all keep up with what’s being found around town.
A version of this was published in the Katy Trail Weekly on August 7, 2014.