Grouse, Quail, & Allies

Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus
Although this species is present year-round, Grimes (1944, p.57) noted that it was usually “mid-March before the loud, clear whistle” is heard here and that still holds true today. He also noted that they were evenly distributed throughout the county, which I do not find to be the case today – certainly not along the coast and Jacksonville beaches area. In 1969, Grimes not only noted breeding records from coastal areas like Mayport and Jacksonville Beach, he noted them in those locations remarkably late for breeding – like the month of October (Robertson, 1970).

Northern Bobwhite are localized in the county and can be very difficult to find, as their habitat is quickly being wiped out in favor of tract home developments and industrial warehouses. In 2005-2007, they were fairly reliable on the hospital campus off San Pablo Road, but after twelve years of cutting down pine forest in favor of paved parking lots (literally), they have been extirpated from the property.

There are a few decent locations for them on the west side, including Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area, the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, Ringhaver Park, and in suitable habitat along the side of Old Plank, Otis, and Pritchard Roads. Some more reliable locations are Sheffield Regional Park (behind the athletic fields) and Pumpkin Hill Preserve State Park. They can also be found at Betz-Tiger Point Preserve and Cedar Point Preserve, giving you four locations along the Cedar Point Road “corridor” to try for them.

Northern Bobwhite. Betz-Tiger Point Preserve. Jacksonville, Florida. December 2012.

In May 2012, Linda Greene found at least one along the “Alta end” of Port Jacksonville Parkway (M&M Dairy), and we were able to find them a few times over that month, but not since. The point is, they’re hit or miss, and you can’t rely on them in any particular location anymore. If I were to recommend two spots, it’d be Pumpkin Hill and Branan Field, with the latter be the very best place left to search for them. Be wary of frequent “heard only” reports from Pumpkin Hill…those are likely of Eastern Towhees, being reported by inexperienced observers.

Most recently, Marie and I were pleasantly surprised to see a pair on 30 May 2020 at Fort Family Regional Park in the Baymeadows area. This little park is a literal oasis in a sea of concrete, highways, and over development, yet this male and female Bobwhite called a little patch of a half acre of pines “home”. We were only visiting the park that day because of the coronavirus pandemic, as we had been ordering the occasional lunch at a drive through during the COVID restrictions and finding a place to picnic. That day we chose to picnic at the Fort Family park while enjoying some tasty McDonald’s, and I was in the middle of a bite of delicious Filet-o-fish when the two quail came trotting by right out in the open!

Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus
Indian Peafowl (commonly called Peacocks) are an introduced exotic species in Florida. While they aren’t “ABA countable”, they are still gorgeous creatures and fun to observe. Few local birds excite non-birders and casual passerby like the Peafowl do. There are several established populations in the Jacksonville area, but perhaps the oldest and easiest to find are the ones roaming Fort George Island.

Indian Peafowl. Kingsley Plantation. Fort George Island, Jacksonville, Florida. 15 April 2017.

You can usually find them between the old church and halfway to the Ribault Club along the paved road, and since 2014 they’ve established a reliable presence at Kingsley Plantation on the island.

Another smaller family is located at White Shell Bay fish camp off Heckscher Drive; you’ll pass that little blue building on your way to Fort George Island (unless you’re heading there from the north down A1A).

Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
Much like the Northern Bobwhite, Wild Turkey are localized and can often be seen in distant pastures on the west side of the county. Early in the morning or around dusk, you can find them on a back road near the Jacksonville airport. There is also a group that travels back and forth along the powerline “cut” at M&M Dairy, but they are much less reliable and can be tough to see. They can be found in similar small numbers at Westside Industrial Park and Branan Field Wildlife and Environmental Area. In the southern part of the county, try Julington-Durbin Preserve.

If you have time to check for them at only one location, I’d suggest the back part of Branan Field. Walk to the back half of the property and head all the way back to the “far right” corner of the property.

Updated 16 June 2020. All photos by Kevin Dailey

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