I took a trip in July to spend a day with members of Minnesota’s Quail Forever organization. QF is a conservation-based group devoted to perpetuation of its favorite bird, the Bobwhite quail.
QF guys firmly believe they are working in the interests of a wild bird.
Bob Janssen, a Chanhassen resident who is godfather of Minnesota birding records and author of a book on the same, disagrees. He told me a day before my trip to Houston County that there hasn’t been a wild Bobwhite in the state for decades.
This is what wild means to the American Birding Association:
1) A population large enough to survive a routine amount of mortality or nesting failure. 2) Sufficient offspring produced to maintain or increase the population. 3) A population meeting those conditions for at least 15 years.
Members of Quail Forever in Houston County insist quail there have always been wild. For Janssen and others, the issue is quail raised and released.
Quail devotee Paul Schutte, who is crafting quail paradise on 190 acres of farmland there, said he knows of no one in that corner of the state who raises and releases quail.
We met on Schutte’s land. Since 1999 he has tuned it to the needs of quail. He has mowed and cut. He has planted trees and wildflowers. He has planted what most of us would consider weeds, including ragweed, a quail favorite. How can you doubt a guy who plants ragweed?
Modern agricultural practices — pesticides and herbicides and crops replacing cattle — have reworked quail-friendly landscape. The needs of the birds barely match reality.
Quail populations here once were undisputed, dropping into suspicion in the 1980s. This was about the time neonicotinoid chemicals began to be agriculture staples. Neonicotinoids are one of the suspects in loss of honeybees.
That makes the conservation efforts of groups like Quail Forever and cousin Pheasants Forever important. They raise money and provide hands-on labor that offer habitat and hope.
Belief has put quail on the landscape, their whistled calls bouncing over the green hills of Houston County in the early morning. Wild or not, the pleasure of the song is the same.