Although quail populations have declined 80 percent in the past 40 years, the small game bird has found respite among the post oak, river bottom and tall grass prairie of one Clay County ranch, and researchers from the University of North Texas have taken note.
Deborah Clark and Emry Birdwell manage the 14,200 Birdwell and Clark Ranch east of Henrietta. Clark and Birdwell focus on wildlife sustainability and sustainable grazing through holistic management practices, and have seen a 452 percent improvement in bobwhite quail populations on their land this fall, earning them the 2014 UNT Quail Keystone Ranch Award. Their efforts were honored during a reception held in Dallas on Nov. 13.
“We are most excited to be the first recipient of this award. Most of the credit for this increase in quail numbers goes to Mother Nature who brought scarce but timely rains this year and milder summer temperatures,” Clark said.
“We did defer grazing from critical nesting habitat in the spring and early summer and plan to lay out many of the same paddocks this winter for the protection of the quail and the enjoyment of our bird dogs,” said Birdwell.
Birdwell is a third generation rancher who first leaned about holistic management practices in the 1980s. He and Clark purchased the north half of the former Bryant Edwards Ranch in 2004 and have since utilized holistic management practices convert the ranch from a continuous grazing operation to rotational grazing. Both are involved in Holistic Management International, a non-profit organization that teaches sustainable and profitable ranching techniques, and Clark is studying to become a holistic management certified educator.
The Birdwell and Clark Ranch runs three herds of 1,500-2,000 yearlings each, according to holisticmanagement.org.
Quail populations have declined 80 percent in the past 40 years, and with Texas being 98 percent privately owned, researchers depend on Texas ranchers to help improve those populations. Birdwell and Clark have demonstrated continued improvement in quail habitat by deferred grazing, or having their more than 5,000 head of cattle graze around the needs of quail on the land. The ranch also hosts several quail research projects and numerous outreach programs for the Clay County region.
“A 452 percent improvement is a huge jump by any standards, and is a testament to their focus on sustainable ranching,” said UNT Quail Executive Director Kelly Reyna.
UNT Quail’s research and conservation efforts involve work with more than 100 ranches comprising more than 1.5 million acres in Texas. The UNT Quail Keystone Ranch Award honors ranchers who participate in UNT Quail research, implement quail management practices and demonstrate improvement in quail population numbers, and host UNT Quail field days or educational events for the North Texas region.
UNT Quail is an innovative game bird laboratory and program that fosters sustainable quail populations through innovative research, conservation and education. UNT Quail aims to create large corridors of habitat with sustainable populations of quail and other wildlife for generations to come.