If you are old enough to remember the call of the bobwhite quail in the early mornings. In the 1960’s, my family would come down to our 200 acre cattle ranch/weekend escape to spend time away from the city and to get in some time in the fields hunting dove and quail. Both birds were “thick” on our property. I can remember waking up in the mornings listening to mourning dove and bobwhites calling the sun off the horizon. When I would mow our one acre yard, I would have to watch for quail nests with eggs in them. I would also watch the eggs for when they would hatch out and see the little chicks grow. The bobwhites in our yards were “protected’ However, the bobwhites from the backyard fence for one and a half miles back were fair game during the quail season. We had no less than five coveys of quail on our land all through the 60’s and into the 70’s. They would sometimes have 20 to 30 birds in them and when you would walk into the middle of a covey, it would literally explode in all directions, leaving you to try to figure out which way to shoot, if you could get your thoughts together quick enough! They were our favorite birds to have!
In the early 1980’s, the quail disappeared! I have heard various explanations from loss of native grassland habitat to disease, and even chiggers. I’m sure most explanations have a factor. However, as the quail disappeared, so did the horned lizard, and the red harvester ants that used to be such a pain but were a food source for the lizard and probably the bobwhite. What would replace them was the mounds of millions of fire ants, an imported species with no natural enemies not native to Texas. This is what I believe has been the major single cause of the loss of the bobwhite population in many areas of Texas, especially mine. My property used to be free of fire ants until about 1982. That year, I purchased a lot of coastal hay for my cattle and stored it near my barn. I had not seen any fire ant mounds until that time and we still saw an occasional horned lizard and heard bobwhites call in the mornings. It only took about one year from that time and I have literally hundreds of fire ant mounds on my five acre house site and the red harvester ant population was gone, as were the occasional horned lizard sightings. The bobwhites were no longer heard every morning and within a couple of years, as the fire ants spread across my property, the bobwhite calls ceased. Only recently have sightings been reported again.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, Dec 2015, ( http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2015/dec/ed_3_quail/index.phtml ) has an excellent article on efforts to re-establish the bobwhite quail populations in Texas. It is a long term project to say the least and is being promoted to large ranch owners who are trying to re-establish native grasslands that quail need. They were successful with a turkey program a number of years ago so hopefully they will be successful with this program. There are some serious questions I personally have about aspects of the program and how it effects the finances of the land owner if the land is removed from livestock production, but over all, I see a ray of hope for the future of the bobwhite. If their program is as successful as their turkey program was about 40 years ago, then our grandchildren may enjoy hearing the sunrise call of the bobwhite quail as I did when I was a teenager back in the 1960’s.