Photographed at Bob Rushing Park in the Katy Prairie
An emphatic, whistled bob-white ringing from a grassy field or piney woods has long been a characteristic sound of summers in the Eastern countryside. It’s quite a bit harder to spot a Northern Bobwhite, as the bird’s elegantly dappled plumage offers excellent camouflage. They forage in groups, scurrying between cover or bursting into flight if alarmed. Bobwhites have been in sharp decline throughout the past half-century, likely owing to habitat loss and changes in agriculture, and they are an increasingly high priority for conservation.
Because of its history as a game bird, the Northern Bobwhite is one of the most intensively studied bird species in the world. Scientists have researched the impacts of various human activities, from pesticide application to prescribed burning, on both wild and captive bobwhites.
Northern Bobwhites are divided into 22 subspecies, some of which were formerly considered to be separate species—such as the Masked Bobwhite, the Rufous-bellied Bobwhite, and the Black-headed Bobwhite. Although the females mostly look alike, the males vary dramatically from one subspecies to the next.
Northern Bobwhites were thought to be monogamous until researchers began radio-tracking individuals to follow their activities. It turns out that both male and female bobwhites can have multiple mates in one season.
The bobwhite genus is represented by more than 700 known fossils, dug up in sites ranging from Florida to Arizona to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Some of these fossils are at least 2.5 million years old.
Why did the Prairie Chicken cross the road? ....to get away from the photographer! If you offered me a $1000 to take you to the Refuge so you could take photo of an Attwater's Prairie Chicken and you would only pay if you got the photo....I probably would not collect it.
These are few and far between and an endangered species.
I had been to Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge for years before I ever saw one. This one of two were in the road last November and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Plump, chickenlike bird found in grasslands. Body and wings entirely barred brown with paler buffy throat. In spring, males gather at display site and dance to attract females: look for them hunched over with earlike feathers protruding from the head and yellowish-orange skin exposed on the neck. Inconspicuous and difficult to find away from display sites. Separate from Lesser Prairie-Chicken by range; averages slightly darker and larger than Lesser. Darker than Sharp-tailed Grouse with more heavily barred sides and belly; rounded tail.
Few performances in the bird world are more memorable than the dawn display of Greater Prairie-Chickens at their booming ground, or lek—the traditional spot where males dance, call, and try to impress females with their vigor. When displaying, the males erect earlike plumes on the head and blow up bright orange air sacs on the neck, transforming themselves from brownish chickenlike birds into brightly colored performers, all the while drumming with their feet and producing whooping and cackling calls.
Some booming grounds or leks have been used for more than a century and are considered “ancestral,” whereas others, more recently established, are called “satellite” areas. When prairie-chicken populations are low, most males assemble at ancestral areas, but during periods of higher populations the satellite areas may contain many males (especially younger ones).
Males’ territories within the booming ground appear to be oriented according to marks in the terrain such as depressions, drainages, fences, cow droppings, and wheel tracks. Modifying these features can result in males modifying the shapes of their territories.
The extinct Heath Hen was a subspecies (cupido) of Greater Prairie-Chicken that inhabited the Eastern Seaboard from Maryland to Massachusetts in the colonial era. Excessive hunting of this bird led to restrictions as early as 1791, but even so declines continued. The last Heath Hen died on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in 1932.
Photographed in DeWitte County in the spring of 2018. I was with Jeff Rohling and we were searching for spring wildflower landscapes when I saw a hen in an open field next to the road. We stopped putting a large bush between us and the bird. The gobbler then appeared strutting around the bush and gobbling his head off. We quickly shot him with our 500mm lenses, and he never felt any pain.
The abundant numbers of Wild Turkey is due to conservation efforts like the National Wild Turkey Foundation, a hunters' organization that funds conservation projects.
Most North American kids learn turkey identification early, by tracing outlines of their hands to make Thanksgiving cards. These big, spectacular birds are an increasingly common sight the rest of the year, too, as flocks stride around woods and clearings like miniature dinosaurs. Courting males puff themselves into feathery balls and fill the air with exuberant gobbling. The Wild Turkey’s popularity at the table led to a drastic decline in numbers, but they have recovered and now occur in every state except Alaska.
The Wild Turkey and the Muscovy Duck are the only two domesticated birds native to the New World.
In the early 1500s, European explorers brought home Wild Turkeys from Mexico, where native people had domesticated the birds centuries earlier. Turkeys quickly became popular on European menus thanks to their large size and rich taste from their diet of wild nuts. Later, when English colonists settled on the Atlantic Coast, they brought domesticated turkeys with them.
The English name of the bird may be a holdover from early shipping routes that passed through the country of Turkey on their way to delivering the birds to European markets.
Male Wild Turkeys provide no parental care. Newly hatched chicks follow the female, who feeds them for a few days until they learn to find food on their own. As the chicks grow, they band into groups composed of several hens and their broods. Winter groups sometimes exceed 200 turkeys.
As Wild Turkey numbers dwindled through the early twentieth century, people began to look for ways to reintroduce this valuable game bird. Initially they tried releasing farm turkeys into the wild but those birds didn’t survive. In the 1940s, people began catching wild birds and transporting them to other areas. Such transplantations allowed Wild Turkeys to spread to all of the lower 48 states (plus Hawaii) and parts of southern Canada.
Because of their large size, compact bones, and long-standing popularity as a dinner item, turkeys have a better known fossil record than most other birds. Turkey fossils have been unearthed across the southern United States and Mexico, some of them dating from more than 5 million years ago.
There are four sub-races of Wild Turkey; Eastern, Florida, Rio Grande, and Rocky Mountain.