This distinctive song or trill used to be commonplace in these parts and, in fact, up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The bobwhite quail, or for many just the “bobwhite,” was a ubiquitous bird, even though their natural habitat is grasslands, woodlands, and shrub thickets. Their distinctive cry pretty much lets you know their location.
Sadly, the population has nose-dived 70 percent since the mid-’60s, says the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The reason: not so much the hunter and predator — though one hunter called the bird the “potato chip of the natural world” because “pretty much everything wants to eat them” — but rather growth. They are losing their habitat to subdivisions and business development.
Fortunately, neither the bobwhite nor its introductory cry have been forgotten — at least not here in Virginia where a group of Frederick County residents and Virginia wildlife officials met in Gainesboro last week to discuss the situation.
Unlike other animals and insects — the notorious snail darter, for example — whose preservation was considered critical to the environment, the fate of the bobwhite hinges on the desires of people who simply love the bird, love its call, and, yes, at times love, to eat it. The bird has simply been part of our woodland culture and environment, it would be a loss. Not quite as much — but imagine Maine without the loon.