Coyote could help return of Presidio quail

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion via KGO logo
Friday, November 5, 2021
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Their sound has been silenced in San Francisco for years. Ever since the City's once thriving native Quail population became locally extinct. But now, wildlife experts at the Presidio believe the time could be right to bring them back.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With all the focus on climate change and challenges to our planet, it's encouraging to hear an environmental success story. And this one is happening right here in the Bay Area. Thanks to hard work by wildlife biologists at the San Francisco Presidio and a local environmental group, the ground work in being placed for the possible return of a locally extinct species.

Their sound has been silenced in San Francisco for years. Ever since the City's once thriving native Quail population became locally extinct. But now, wildlife experts at the Presidio believe the time could be right to bring them back.

"What we have been able to do is to build back the kinds of habitat that would be needed in order for quail to survive in the Presidio again," says Lew Stringer of the Presidio Trust.

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Stringer and wildlife biologist Jonathan Young have been working to restore habitats like this site bordering the city's Richmond district. It's now rich with dune scrub and underbrush that the birds thrive in. But Young says the effort is also getting help from another species that's already made its own comeback in the Presidio, coyote.

"Coyote is a predator in the food chain. And actually its presence promotes environmental health through its consumption of smaller rodents, such as rats that would otherwise impact these ground nesting birds," he says.

In other words, egg stealers and non-native species that pressure the quail. They believe the resurgent coyotes and other predators like hawks have helped put the habitat back in a better balance.

And now a new study with researchers at the San Francisco Estuary Institute appears to confirm the progress. Erica Spotswood, Ph.D. and first author Kelly Iknayan, Ph.D., tracked data from areas where birds like quail thrive, particularly with the presence of coyote. Conditions that compare favorably to restored areas of the Presidio.

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"So the potential to bring them back to the Presidio or to other parks in San Francisco's really exciting potential example of a charismatic species being reintroduced into a large urban park," says Spotswood.

They say the work provides a roadmap for a potential reintroduction, similar to the work the Presidio team has done with native butterflies. While there's still a lot of study to be done, bird conservation groups like Point Blue Conservation since say the return of quail to the Presidio would be a treat for visitors.

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"Their sound is nice to hear when you're out on a hike They sound like they're saying Chicago, but in a special way. Chicago," says Point Blue's Kristen Dybala, Ph.D.

And for local experts it would also be the sound of an environmental success story.

The Point Blue team has also been working with the Presidio on other local bird counts. And they've found evidence that the restoration work is helping those species as well.