Rare sighting of Northern Bobwhite – March 2015

Northern Bobwhite

Early morning on February 6, Rebecca Sponga of Alsop Ct. noticed an unusual bird under the overhang of a nearby deck. George Paine took pictures, which helped confirm the presence of a Northern Bobwhite Quail. It is unusual to see one here, especially during these cold winter days. The Northern Bobwhite is in severe decline and efforts to increase their numbers is a top priority among conservationists.

Usually the Bobwhite is in a large covey and at nightfall they gather in a circle with their heads pointing outward. This allows them to watch for predators. The Bobwhite also uses the “broken wing” display to distract a potential predator from their nest.

They consume a number of different seeds. In addition to pine seeds, they also eat the seeds from dogwoods, poison ivy, acorns, sweetgum, violets, and clover to name just a few. They like open, grassy areas and overgrown fields. Farmers are being encouraged to allow some of their pasture to go fallow and become overgrown in order to encourage the Bobwhite.

We didn’t disturb the Bobwhite as he sat all puffed up to keep warm. The RA Naturalists were anxious to see the bird but it left before they could get here. Claudia Thompson Deahl checked the bird list and there hasn’t been a reported sighting of a Bobwhite here. In areas where they are established, they are irregularly seen in the Spring and are very rare in the Summer.

Keep your ears tuned for the call of the Bobwhite. The notes are very sharp but it sounds just like it’s name.

We thought this was the end of the story, but on February 7 the quail sought refuge in the Huygens’ front yard on Ansdel and was able to eat seed that dropped from the bird feeders. Ewa and Etienne were concerned however, as the quail didn’t seem too frightened of their dogs or people. So, Sunday morning Linda Paine called Claudia Thompson Deahl for advice. Claudia and another naturalist thought perhaps this quail was being held in captivity for game hunting and not from the wild. It would be quite vulnerable. She contacted Kevin Munroe, another naturalist who arrived with 2 nets. After capturing the bird and noting a possible injured wing, Kevin placed it in a carrier and George and Linda took the bird to Pender Exotics. Hopefully it will be transferred soon to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Our thanks to Rebecca Sponga, Claudia Thompson Deahl, Kevin Munroe, Ewa and Etienne Huygens, George and Linda Paine and Pender Exotics. A special thank you to the owners of Lucy and Ginger for keeping their cats inside during this time.

The quail is now in the care of a licensed rehabilitator and we are researching places where he might be released after he recovers. There are several options in Rappahannock and one of those is a farm that has an established covey on protected land. If this is a domesticated quail, there is concern he might not do well if released so there are ongoing conversations with the experts about that possibility.

The story continues with the appearance of two more quail in Marion Rogers’ backyard on St. Trinians. Saturday, February 14 the rehabilitator brought two nets to aid in capturing these quail. Unfortunately, they flew into other yards. However, George was able to net the male Bobwhite and it was placed with the other captured quail. Late that day just before it started to snow, George and Linda returned to try and catch the female. We could hear her quietly calling the very recognizable sound of a Bobwhite. George made a Hail Mary leap and netted her. She has joined the other two quail and the reports this morning are that they are together in a warmer environment and very calm.

Where to call for help if you find an injured bird or other wildlife:

The following are some places you can call for help if you find an injured bird or small animal:

  • Pender Exotics located on Logato Rd. off West Ox. Phone: 703-988-3715.
  • Great Falls Animal Hospital on Colvin Run Rd. (just before Walker Rd.) Phone: 703-759-2330.
  • Reston Association has naturalists on staff. Call the Central Services Facility at 703-437-7658.
  • Fairfax County Animal Shelter on West Ox. Phone: 703-691-2131.
  • Wildlife Rescue League–703-440-0800
  • The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia–703-578-1175

Linda Paine
Landscaping Committee Co-chair