Masked bobwhite quail

Scientific name: Colinus virginianus ridgwayi
Habitat:desert grasslands
Current range: Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and parts of Sonora, Mexico
Conservation status: Endangered
Threats: habitat loss due to cattle ranching and grazing
Related research: C2S2’s Avian Recovery and Research

photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service


On the brink of extinction

The masked bobwhite quail once was common throughout Arizona and parts of Northern Mexico, but now can be found only in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) in Arizona and parts of Sonora, Mexico.  This subspecies was discovered in Arizona in the late 1880s and already was determined to be sparse 20 years later.  The cause of decline has been massive growth in cattle ranching with depleted essential grasses due to overgrazing and trampling.  By the 1950s, the popularity of cattle ranching had spread to Mexico, further reducing high quality habitat that was critical to quail survival.

Conservation in action

The last masked bobwhite quail believed to exist were taken into captivity as a conservation measure in the 1960s with U.S. federal protection extended beginning in 1969.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has continued playing a critical role, especially in developing the 118,000 acre BANWR protected area in the Altar Valley of Arizona in 1985.  Perhaps as many of 300 to 500 quail exist at this site, which is protected from cattle grazing and hunting.  Additionally, habitat restoration is ongoing to restore native grasses that are essential for ensuring quail survival.  A masked bobwhite quail captive breeding facility also is located in BANWR and used to breed and maintain a security population of birds.

The Conservation Centers for Species Survival (led by the San Diego Zoo Global and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center) is assisting the Masked Bobwhite Recovery Team by providing advice on habitat restoration and especially the management of the captive flock.  A priority is to ensure that the breeding facility produces offspring that are genetically healthy and able to adapt to free-living, wild conditions. Learn more about C2S2’s avian research and recovery program.

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