Quail Questions

Quail Resolution Approved

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors at their Monday, July 10, 2000 meeting approved a: Resolution urging the Recreation and Park Department, the Public Utilities Commission, and other City Departments to give the utmost cooperation and support to the "Save the Quail Campaign" without killing other animals, and designating the California Quail as the official bird of the City and County of San Francisco.

Board of Supervisors Agenda, San Francisco
Monday, July 10, 2000 For adoption without committee reference. These measures are introduced for adoption without committee reference. A unanimous vote is required for adoption of a resolution today. Any Supervisor may require any resolution to go to committee. Items 35 through 46..........
37. 001215 [Save the Quail Campaign] Supervisor Katz
Resolution urging the Recreation and Park Department, the Public Utilities Commission, and other City Departments to give the utmost cooperation and support to the "Save the Quail Campaign" without killing other animals, and designating the California Quail as the official bird of the City and County of San Francisco.
    (emphasis added)

City Bird Waiting in the Wings
June 26, 2000 -- San Francisco Examiner
Kathleen Sullivan
" ..... But no cats, racoons or skunks - or people with off-leash dogs - are expected to show up to protest the bird's proposed honor at City Hall."
    (emphasis added)

Supervisor Presses Cause Of Quail in City Parks
June 24, 2000 - San Francisco Chronicle
"The commission forwarded its proposal to the Board of Supervisors last month, after the pro-quail Golden Gate chapter of the Audubon Society and the pro-cat San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agreed on a joint plan. The SPCA had earlier objected to the quail plan because it feared the project would entail killing the feral cats that live in Golden Gate Park. For years, the SPCA has been working to cut the feral cat population by neutering and spaying such cats. As approved by the commission, the plan makes no reference to removing cats."
   (emphasis added)

"Save the Quail" Campaign
Golden Gate
Audubon Society
As the breeding season approached quail sightings continued to come in from the Presidio and Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. Many people reported seeing males and females paired for nesting. A May 7, check of the habitat restoration area at Fort Funston found that the quail had returned. "Through the article we learned of quail populations in the San Francisco Golf Club, The Olympic Club, and there were also reports of quail near Mt. Davidson, Glen Canyon Park, and Diamond Heights. One quail was seen near Stern Grove and was reported by numerous observers. Other reports were from near the Polo Field, and the Oak Woodlands in Golden Gate Park. The two most unusual reports were from the Mission District and Russian Hill."
    (emphasis added)

California Quail Have Refuge in Presidio:
June 20, 2000 - Quail Unlimited
Explains new traffic signs' significance:
"The signs are to notify and encourage visitors to drive slowly in sensitive areas, keep their pets on a leash and avoid feeding animals that prey on quail." ... "Quail chicks, in recent years, have hatched in mid-June on the Presidio. Shortly after hatching, the young leave their nest and feed on their own, which makes the chicks more susceptible to an early death than other species which stay in their nest." ... "The quail's nests are usually well hidden."
    (emphasis added)

Presidio Takes Quail Under Its Wing
June 29, 2000 - San Francisco Chronicle
Kelly St. John
"At the turn of the century, 1,200 quail nested in Golden Gate Park, but loss of habitat, predators and humans have cut those numbers to about a dozen. Fort Funston is the other area in San Francisco where quail are found. On July 10, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a plan, sponsored by Supervisor Leslie Katz, to name the California quail San Francisco's official city bird and to protect the birds by restoring their native habitat in the city's parks. City agencies would be asked to support the Golden Gate Audubon Society's "Save the Quail" campaign, which promotes habitat preservation and education of the public about the quail's plight"

    (emphasis added)

Endorsing the "Save the Quail" Campaign
Resolution No. 009-00-COE May 15, 2000
Commission on the Environment, City and County of San Francisco
"WHEREAS, The California Quail is significant to our cultural history as well as our natural heritage, as quail were an important food source to the Ohlone people and to the early settlers; and, WHEREAS, ....."
    (emphasis added)

S.F. Panel OKs Plan to Save Park Quail  
May 16, 2000 - San Francisco Chronicle
by Tom Zoellner
"The 'Save the Quails ' plan to rehabilitate the park's dwindling quail habitat goes next to the Board of Supervisors after being modified with the phrase,
''without killing any animals.'' A sentence calling for the removal of ''invasive, non-native species'' was also amended to refer only to plants, ivy and other vegetation that threatens quail habitats. Cat lovers, led by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, had worried that saving the quail was a backdoor excuse to eradicate the park's population of stray cats, which feed on birds, including quail."
   (emphasis added)

Golden Gate Park Losing its Quail
Jan. 13, 2000 - San Francisco Examiner
"Statewide, the quail population is in good shape, said Department of Fish and Game biologist Sam Blankenship. The population decline in Golden Gate Park may be hard to arrest, because "it's difficult for an isolated area like that to repopulate. Quail (populations) boom and bust, and there's no ebb and flow from other population areas." California hunters bagged 500,374 quail during the staggered hunting seasons, which run from the last week in September until Jan. 10."
    (emphasis added)

California's Upland Game Birds
Department of Fish and Game: California Quail.
"These quail are found in every county of the State.
They are usually associated with brushy vegetation in combination with more open weedy or grassy habitats and available water supplies. They avoid heavy forest and dense chaparral, although trees with dense foliage may be used for roosting. The California quail is also known as the valley quail, and became the official California State bird in 1931."
    (emphasis added)

The California Quail
website - by Dave Riensch
"Of our three species of Quail, the California is the most wide spread."     
   (emphasis added)

A Quail Quandary  
July 8, 2000 - San Francisco Chronicle
by Glen Martin

"The sole bright spot, said Hopkins, is Fort Funston, where habitat restoration projects have resulted in a modest resurgence in quail numbers. Hopkins said much of the bird's decline can be attributed to habitat destruction. ``Our goal is to increase suitable habitat in areas where quail can live, and possibly conduct reintroduction programs if necessary,'' he said."
   (emphasis added)

Quail Questions and Answers
Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries
"Q. Why doesn't the Game Department stock pen-raised quail to increase population levels? A. From 1922 through 1958, more than 100,000 pen-raised quail were raised at Department Game Farms and released throughout the state. Wildlife managers began to notice that areas where large numbers of quail had been released seemed to have no more birds than unstocked areas. Soon it was the general consensus that stocking pen-reared quail into unoccupied areas did not result in the establishment of new populations, usually because habitat conditions were sub-optimal. Stocking birds into favorable habitat was deemed unnecessary because native birds would colonize these areas. Pen-raised quail usually survive poorly because they are less wary and fly slower than wild birds, making them very susceptible to predation. There is also concern that the release of pen-raised quail can introduce diseases into the wild population and increase mortality rates by attracting predators to the release site. As a result, the Department recommends habitat improvements as the best way to increase quail numbers on a landowner's property. Stocking pen-raised quail into habitats where native quail can not survive is a waste of valuable resources that could be used for legitimate conservation efforts."
    (emphasis added)

Ecology & Management of the Northern Bobwhite
Mississippi State University Extension Service
"Annual burning of cutovers and open pine forests, along with associated grazing of livestock and cropping, provided the right patchwork or "mosaic" of early successional habitats that quail require..." ........
"Researchers and other professionals learned that bobwhites require patchy habitats that provide a mix of bare ground, seeds, and insects and vegetation for nesting, brood-rearing cover, and protection from predators."
    (emphasis added)

All About Nature: Animal Printouts
   Hey KIDS!
Color a quail drawing -- with Crayons or Paint!
"In addition to printing the animals, you can copy a printout and paste it into a painting program (like Paint) and color the animal there." ... "The quail's call sounds like chi--CA-go, where the middle sound (CA) is higher in pitch."
    (emphasis added)

California Quail
" Like many of their relatives, California quails explode in flight when surprised on the ground. (They have been timed at thirty-eight to fifty-eight miles per hour.) But, unlike bobwhites, they don’t all fly at once, and they scatter in different directions. After alighting, they run swiftly. (They have been timed running at twelve miles per hour.)"

    (emphasis added)

California Quail Breeding Distribution Map
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, I. Thomas, J. Fallon, and G. Gough. 1999.
The North American Breeding Bird Survey, I
Results and Analysis 1966 - 1998. Version 98.1,
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD

California Quail Trend Distribution Map
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, I. Thomas, J. Fallon, and G. Gough. 1999.
The North American Breeding Bird Survey,
Results and Analysis 1966 - 1998. Version 98.1,
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD

The California Quail
by A. Starker Leopold
University of California Press 1985
The definitive reference book.


Wildlife Terms
North Carolina State University, North Carolina A & T State University,
US Department of Agriculture, and local governments.

The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

2500 16th Street * San Francisco, CA * 94103-4213 * (415) 554-3000 *


Statement to the Commission on the Environment:

Proposed Resolution to Target "Non-Native" Species

May 15, 2000

The San Francisco SPCA believes all animals, whether wild or domestic, are equally entitled to our respect, concern, and compassion. We also believe each is entitled to a fair share of the natural resources necessary to preserve their well-being. We recognize that in some cases the needs of one species may conflict with that of another.  In weighing these different interests, we feel that balance and fairness are essential for a just resolution. Where the loss to one species is great, the corresponding need should be equally compelling. And no species should be asked to give up vital habitat and essential natural resources without such a demonstration.  To burden one creature without benefiting another is, in our view, misguided and wrong. And whatever the need, killing is never an appropriate solution, even when the corresponding need appears compelling

Before the Commission on the Environment is a proposed resolution endorsing a "Save the Quail" campaign. It claims that the quail is native to San Francisco, was an important food source to early settlers, is declining in population, and blames "introduction of invasive non-native species" for the decline.  The proposed resolution also calls on City government to develop and implement a quail recovery and management plan.  The San Francisco SPCA objects to the proposed resolution for the following reasons:

The proposed resolution lacks a balanced perspective. Scientific studies of the actual nature of cat and other predation in City parks were not included, animal welfare organizations were not consulted prior to the drafting of the resolution, and true reasons for quail decline are ignored.

The proposed resolution will likely be carried out through trapping and slaughter of innocent cats, skunks and other animals; by denying adequate opportunities for dogs and dog lovers to exercise; and by limiting recreation opportunities for scores of other park users.

The proposal will not result in increasing quail populations. At the same time, taxpayer money will have been wasted, cats and skunks will have been killed, recreation opportunities limited, and the clear-cutting of trees and plants carried out.

Although carefully worded to appear innocuous, the proposed resolution is merely a rewording of both a 1993 plan to round up and kill feral cats in City parks and language in the draft Sustainability Plan which apparently saw nothing amiss with ranking "irresponsible pet owners" as a major threat to biodiversity -- a point that defies fact and logic.

In 1997, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to remove that language from the Sustainability Plan before it was approved as a document for San Francisco's future. And following months of research and public testimony, an equally one-side vote by the Commission on Animal Control and Welfare thoroughly rejected the 1993 call for killing cats in City parks.

Unless the Commission is concluding that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Commission on Animal Control and Welfare, the San Francisco park studies by biologist Robert Berg, and predation studies on four continents (13 studies in Europe, 12 in North America, 9 in Australia, and 1 in Africa) are all wrong, cats and other unwanted animals should not be unfairly implicated in any perceived decimation of  local wildlife.


Accordingly, on behalf of the 91,249 members of The San Francisco SPCA, we ask that the Commission reject the proposed backward-thinking resolution, and in its place, reaffirm San Francisco as a City that looks to the future -- a future of compassion and sensitivity for all life.

1.      The Proposed Resolution Is Internally and Hopelessly Flawed. [1]

Golden Gate Park is a man-made construct; it does not fit into any natural type of ecosystem. From an ecological standpoint, there are plants from all over the world in "unnatural" assemblages.  To suggest that feral cats or other "introduced" species in the park are upsetting the natural ecosystem is nonsensical since the park itself is not part of the "natural" ecosystem (the original ecosystem consisted of coastal strand vegetation and wildlife near the ocean and dune ecosystems inland covering most of what today comprises the avenues.)

At the same time, the quail in Golden Gate Park and elsewhere in San Francisco is not native. Quail were also "introduced" into this and other City parks (A study by biologist Dr. Robert Berg indicates that the park quail are what is likely left of birds released in the recent past from a time when raising baby quail from eggs in incubators was a popular children's activity, and parents released the quail when they became adults and the children lost interest). Regardless of when and where the quail came from, the area that comprises Golden Gate Park, either now or before the park was constructed, is not habitat that is conducive to the maintenance of a healthy breeding quail population.  In  order for a population of quail to exist in a biologically healthy manner the following attributes must be present: First, the area must be large enough to support a population that in itself contains enough individuals to maintain genetic diversity (i.e., inbreeding must be kept to a minimum). Second, there must be genetic continuity with other members of the species (immigration), which is one of the ways genetic diversity within the population is maintained. Third, the habitat must provide the species in question with available foraging and breeding sites as well as refuge, patchy environments, dispersal barriers, and alternative food sources.

The Park, as it pertains to the quail, falls short in all the aspects listed above. As a result, it should not be surprising that they do not fare well.  Due to the policy of removing such vegetation to discourage the homeless from taking refuge there, the quail are deprived of the underbrush they desire for safe foraging and flight. True quail habitat consists of scrublands and chapparel ecosystems, while Golden Gate Park offers neither.

To also suggest that Lincoln Park, Lake Merced, Harding Park, Stern Grove and Pine Lake Park are any better is also wishful thinking. These areas, even if they contained their original assemblages of plants and animals, are much too small to support viable quail populations in any meaningful ecological or evolutionary sense. In short, even a pristine San Francisco is not conducive to a healthy quail population. Particularly as it relates to the parks noted in the resolution, it is the encroachment of the urban areas and lack of habitat which are responsible for quail decline. The fact that they cannot sustain a viable population speaks more to the unsuitability of City parks and the City proper as habitat, than to some overwhelming pressure from "invasive non-native species."

Even if all cats, skunks, and other so-called "invasive non-native species" were removed from City parks, if dog walking was prohibited, and if our parks became fenced compounds, the quail would eventually suffer local extinction for the reasons stated above. As a result, the killing of innocent animals, the thwarting of recreation opportunities for San Francisco residents with or without dogs, cutting down trees and removing plants will be done in vain, and at great cost, without achieving the desired results.

2.      The Proposed Resolution Seeks Scapegoats not Solutions.

In Golden Gate Park, and throughout our City, the factors that account for the disappearance of the quail and other wildlife/birds are habitat loss, pollution, removal of shrubbery, use of pesticides and inclement weather changes.

The reasons for this are well-documented. As human development continues in our already crowded City, available habitat for wildlife is carved up into smaller and smaller pieces. Under such circumstances, harsh winters or long periods of drought can easily drive down remaining quail populations.

Pesticides are also recognized as a major culprit in bird decline -- particularly the effect of toxic lawn care products. Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides are routinely used in City parks. Indeed, poisoning as a result of everyday use of pesticides has become so widespread that biologists term the phenomenon "lawn-care syndrome."  Other practices, such as removal of low growing shrubbery, tree trimming, and the lack of adequate maintenance at many City parks will also impact on birds and other wildlife.

City officials have also recognized and acknowledged that cats are not responsible for bird decline in San Francisco. The Board of Supervisors' Commission on Animal Control and Welfare put a stop to a proposed round up and kill plan for feral cats in Golden Gate Park after extensive research and public testimony demonstrated a clear lack of evidence that cats were impacting quail and other birds. The Board of Supervisors also removed language from the City's Sustainability Plan targeting feral cats as a threat to biodiversity -- a decision reached after all sides were heard, a consideration not extended by the Department of the Environment in the drafting of the original document.

In addition, aggressive spay/neuter and other humane community-based programs have markedly decreased the cat population in the park.  In one location, a colony was reduced from 85 cats to two, without a single cat being killed. Since the cat population is declining, shouldn't the quail population be increasing? If the quail population is declining at the same time that the cat population is declining, this fact points to some other causal variable. It is, notably, of no mere coincidence that the observed quail decline matches the removal of low-growing shrubbery and use of poisons in City parks.

Given the available evidence to the opposite, we believe it is both incorrect and inappropriate to speculate that "invasive non-native species" are a significant cause for the decline of any species in San Francisco parks. In fact, unless we are going to conclude that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Commission on Animal Control and Welfare, the Golden Gate Park studies by biologist Robert Berg, and predation studies on four continents (13 studies in Europe, 12 in North America, nine in Australia, and one in Africa) are all wrong, cats and other animals should not be unfairly implicated in any perceived decimation of local wildlife.

3.      The Proposed Resolution is Anti-People.

Golden Gate Park is a great urban park, not a pristine native environment that mimics some mythical state of nature that existed in 1491, the year before Christopher Columbus set sail, or before the City was established and populated (indeed the park itself is a man-made construct). Our other parks are also surrounded by a heavily populated urban environment. And it is our City parks' recreational value that is of the utmost importance to San Franciscans. The parks serve the outdoor recreation needs of the people of this metropolitan region and their objective should remain to expand to the maximum extent possible the outdoor recreation opportunities available to our citizens.

Now, the Commission on the Environment is being asked whether our parks are going to be recreation areas -- nestled as they are on the edge of a major metropolitan area -- or whether they should be turned into pristine native environments, inaccessible to the bulk of individuals who use them now.

If the native habitat projects proposed under the current resolution succeed and begin to flourish and support new wildlife populations, will fences be erected and moved further and further, taking more and more space away from traditional recreational uses -- dictating that more cats should be rounded up, extricated and killed? That joggers and dogs must also keep out? That kids and families picnicking would no longer be welcome in these locations? And that the scores of others who use our parks -- Frisbee players, artists, joggers, skateboarders, bicycle enthusiasts, families and Tai Chi practitioners -- must also keep away? Will our parks be turned into native sand dunes, or worse, into fenced compounds -- off limits to all but the nativist stewards self-assigned to keep the rest of us out?

In January 2000, the following commentary appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle: "In the late 1980s and early 1990s [Golden Gate] park was invaded by an ever-burgeoning population of "homeless" people. Wherever there was thick brush they made camp, dragging in mattresses and creating huge piles of rubbish. To circumvent these hidden encampments, San Francisco Park and Recreation eliminated most of the thickets, heavy brush and dense foliage, which was also habitat imperative for survival of [the quail]."

The comment further blamed "habitat loss -- squatting by humans" and the Park and Recreation department response as the "primary cause" for the quail's decline. If this is true, will the Commission also endorse a full-scale effort to kick the homeless out of the park?

4.      The Proposed Resolution Requires Killing Animals.

While presented as an innocuous measure, the lack of a balanced perspective in the proposed resolution is evident. And the proposed resolution is clear: It calls for the elimination of feral cat colonies, skunks, dogs running with their owners, and perhaps even people from the park. As to feral cats, the only way such a directive could be carried out is through the mass trapping and slaughter of innocent animals.

At The San Francisco SPCA, we wish every cat living today were a cherished companion. And we are working along with thousands of San Franciscans to achieve this goal by humanely trapping, spaying or neutering, and socializing feral cats for adoption. But many are too wild to adapt to a human home. For these cats, the humane response is to return them to their colonies, where they are watched over by compassionate caregivers and allowed to live out their natural lives without producing new generations of homeless cats.

The resolution's preoccupation with feral cats and other "non-native" animals deemed unworthy, however, is evident and pervasive, even if carefully masked.  Not surprising since prejudice and bias against the animals closest to us -- cats and dogs who are our daily companions -- is nothing new. The proposed resolution, although carefully worded to appear innocuous, mimics the original call for elimination of cats from these parks by the same proponents in 1993, which was thoroughly rejected by the San Francisco Commission on Animal Control and Welfare.

This resolution also comes from the same proponents who developed the same call in the draft Sustainability Plan, which apparently saw nothing amiss with ranking "irresponsible pet owners" (along with urban development and industrial pollution) as a major threat to biodiversity -- a point of view that has no basis in fact or logic. Had any animal groups been represented among the 400 people from City departments, private businesses and nonprofit organizations included in drafting the Sustainability Plan, this document might have reflected the proven benefits to human health, happiness and social well-being that companion animals provide

It took the thoughtful actions by unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors to remove that language from the final Plan before it was approved as a document for San Francisco's future -- a future of compassion and sensitivity for all life in keeping with the values of St. Francis.

5.      The Proposed Resolution Endorses the View of "Garbage" Animals.

The proposed resolution is based on a troubling belief: value comes from lineage, and worth as a species stems from being here first. The belief that some species of animals are worth more than others because they were here first is backward-thinking and shortsighted. But it is hardly surprising. The call for extermination of animals in the name of protecting others deemed more worthy by some arbitrary standard is not new. "Cats kill birds, so we must kill cats." This is the banner under which proponents of the proposed resolution have long rallied to label cats as the "pests" of our cities and "invasive non-native" intruders in our parks and countryside. But cats aren't the only ones to be targeted for slaughter in the name of protecting other species or reserving "native" habitats. They have been joined at different times and in different places by red foxes, gulls, cowbirds, sea lions, coyotes, mountain lions, ravens, skunks, raccoons, wild horses... the list goes on. Referred to as "garbage animals," "alien" species, "weeds," and "vermin," these creatures have become scapegoats for the massive habitat destruction, environmental degradation, and species extinction caused by one species and one species alone: Humans.

For nativists, the point is clear: the lives of these animals don't count, and therefore they can and should be eliminated to protect more important species and to preserve "natural" environments. Had we honored and preserved life, had we treated all animals -- cats, birds and every other creature who shares our planet -- with the respect they each deserve, we might have spared many of the species now lost forever.

To us, there are no "garbage animals" and slaughter and death aren't the tools we need to preserve life. To do that -- to preserve the life of all animals -- we believe we must honor and preserve the life of each.

6.      Conclusion

The San Francisco SPCA believes quail are deserving of our protection, not because they were "food" for a culture that existed 150 years ago.[2]  Nor because someone claims that they were here before European contact. Nor do we believe that killing other animals today will do justice to any heritage of the past. In rejecting the proposed resolution, a resolution steeped in the shortsightedness and  prejudice of the past, the Commission will be sending a powerful message -- a message that says killing is not an acceptable management tool for us to use as stewards of our nation's animals. Whether our challenges involve protecting wildlife, preserving species, or dealing with pet overpopulation, we have the power to build a new consensus that rejects killing as a method for achieving results. And we can look forward to a time when things like trapping, hunting, and slaughter are viewed as cruel aberrations of the past.

Instead of killing animals in a misguided attempt to "restore" the "purity" of some mythical time, we look forward to the day when every creature -- from the feral cat in Florida to the grizzly bear in Alaska -- will be respected and cherished... And where every individual life will be protected and revered.

[1] The following section was excerpted from a 1993 study by Dr. Robert Berg, the only independent biological study that examined the quail and other wildlife in San Francisco parks.

[2]The proposed resolution indicates that quail is "significant to our cultural history" "as quail were an important food source to the Ohlone people and to the early settlers." To kill an animal now, because settlers used to kill quail a century ago would simply be ludicrous if it were not so disturbing.

The statement above was written before the Quail Resolution was changed to specify that no animals would be killed, but the points are all still quite relevant to the current situation.


Permission to reprint:
Thank you for contacting The San Francisco SPCA about our recent quail statement at the San Francisco Commission on the Environment. We appreciate your interest and welcome you to put it on your website. Thank you again, and best of luck in all your humane endeavors.    -
    SF SPCA July 7, 2000

To First Section of Fort Funston Forum