Project Quail

As you well know, anyone who thinks business travel is exciting spends most of their time at home.

But if there is one thing sitting in an airport in Salt Lake City, waiting for a pilot to arrive from Boston can do, is give you time to make plans for all the things you are going to do once you finally get home.

Hence Project Quail.

I grew up in the Midwest where bobwhite quail, despite an ever-shrinking amount of natural cover along disappearing fencerows and waterways, still manage to thrive. Quail are beautiful, elusive, but fragile birds. Fewer than twenty percent are able to survive their first year. Every creature from black snakes to house cats prey on them, and their natural instinct to ‘crouch now, take flight later’ makes them an easy and tasty target for hawks, foxes and coyotes.

But anyone who has walked along a country road at dusk, listening to the quail calling each other to covey for the night with a distinctive “bob-white, bob-white” will always long to hear it again.

And I am no exception.

While I live in North Carolina, my roots run deep into the Illinois prairie where my grandfather taught me to drive a Farmal tractor, straighten bent nails, and saddle a horse. When I finally found a farm of my own, I drew upon everything he had taught me as I built my own fences, bailed hay for my horses, and mucked ammonia-fumed stalls. And at dusk, regardless of the time of year, I always longed to hear the sound of bobwhite quail calling each other together for the night.

But, for whatever reason, quail have not thrived in the valley where I live in the North Carolina foothills.

So a few weeks ago, while sitting in an airport in Salt Lake City, I decided to see if I could make it possible for quail to survive here on our farm. Quail need water, food and cover, preferably tall grasses, which is precisely what our horses eat. My first step was digging post holes and building a board fence dividing our large back pasture, bordered along one side by Cane Creek and on the other by a steep woods, into two sections: one as a pasture for our two horses, the other to grow wild as a natural habitat for our bobwhite quail.

Tall grasses, however, are no protection against the sharp vision and even sharper talons of a red-tailed hawk, so I spent an evening creating a loose brush pile atop several old pallets. If they realize it, or so I hoped, the quail would be able to take refuge from both hawks and coyotes beneath the prickly brush and between the stacked pallets. A week later I arrived home with two dozen young quail, feathers fully formed, but never having spent a night outside a covered pen. I opened the carrier, walked back several feet, then watched as, one by one, they cautiously stepped out of the carrier and began nibbling at the lush green grass around their new home.

I drug an old Adirondack chair out to our new bird sanctuary and now can go out in the evening, while Daisy and Jasper are rummaging around by the creek, sit in my chair, and listen as the quail chirp, cluck, and even let out an occasional “bob-white, bob-white,” as they work their way out of the woods and tall grasses back to the brush pile for the night.

I know they won’t all survive as they transition to living in the wild, but if a few can eventually adapt, build nests, and raise offspring, just maybe they can start a community of quail here in our valley.

Life isn’t all about sitting in airports.

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!


Top photo: Courtesy of