An ISU graduate student with a mountain
quail bound for the Bennett Hills.
Image Credit: Kelton Hatch, regional
conservation educator, Idaho Department
of Fish and Game's Magic Region.

Scientists work to revive quail populations

Idaho researchers are helping to reestablish a mountain quail population in southern Idaho "that is clinging by its toenails" to survive.

Mountain quail once thrived in Idaho, but are now nearly extinct in the Gem State. There is a small population reported in the Riggins area, as well as sporadic reports of a few sightings of the bird in other parts of the state.

Idaho State University researchers working with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Quail Unlimited, the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners for the last three years have attempted to reestablish a population of mountain quail in the Bennett Hills north of Mountain Home.

They have released an average of about 65 birds the last three springs.

Biologists estimate from those releases and from successful breeding, the Bennett Hills population is between 50 and 100 birds.

"Our primary goal is to establish a self-sustaining population," said David Delehanty, Ph.D., ISU associate professor of biology.

Through the 1960s, mountain quail were a hunted game bird in Idaho. Their decline was due to habitat change and habitat degradation that occurred in conjunction with the introduction of other non-native game birds. Some of those non-native species occupy mountain quail habitat.

Mountain quail only live in the western mountains of North America. They are the largest native American quail.

The researchers hope to make two more releases of up to 100 mountain quail each time in the springs of 2009 and 2010.

Andy Taylor
ISU Magazine