Arizona Masked Bobwhite Habitat to Get Extreme Makeover


Masked Bobwhite

Masked Bobwhite. Photo: ©

(Washington, D.C., June 28, 2010) The endangered Masked Bobwhite will be the beneficiary of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is being used to advance conservation projects at the 118,000-acre Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona.

The funds, totaling about $786,000, are being used to make habitat improvements to assist the survival of the quail, which is a subspecies of the Bobwhite. Invasive mesquite trees will be cleared from 2,000 acres of the refuge, irrigation and wildlife drinking water sources improved, and grasslands aerated to foster native species growth.

The improvements should help the Masked Bobwhite by increasing its preferred nesting habitat, escape cover, and food plants. Buenos Aires NWR is also home to six other endangered and two threatened plant and animal species.

The Masked Bobwhite is a gregarious bird that once occurred from the grassy plains of Arizona to Sonora, Mexico. It was extirpated from almost its entire range at the turn of the 20th Century, primarily due to the introduction of grazing cattle accompanied by fire suppression. The land use change allowed mesquite trees and non-native grasses to invade at the expense of native grass species, including sacaton grass that is important to the bobwhite. Now the mesquite trees are so numerous and large that today's fires are not very effective in reducing their coverage, and labor-intensive removal by cutting or digging is required.

Buenos Aires NWR was established in 1985 specifically to protect a re-introduced population of the birds, which can also be found on two ranches in Sonora.

“We were incredibly fortunate not to have completely lost the Masked Bobwhite to extinction a hundred years ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts at the Buenos Aires Refuge are right on target to preserve this wonderful prairie bird for generations to come,” said American Bird Conservancy's Jim Giocomo, Coordinator for the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture.

Contract workers will perform the mesquite removal, and create brush piles for bobwhite habitat. The contractors will also improve select patches of bobwhite habitat by replanting several species of native grasses known to be favored for food and shelter by bobwhites, and by building an irrigation system and an eight-foot-tall deer fence. Soils will be aerated to enhance water percolation and to stimulate plant growth.