The decline of Northern Bobwhite populations mirrors that of an entire suite of species adapted to grassland ecosystems in the United States. Bobwhite rely on the plant communities and structural characteristics that were once maintained through fire and grazing. However, with the advent of modern land management practices and the discontinuation of prescribed burning, the habitats needed by bobwhite, and many other grassland species, have mostly vanished. To stop the decline of bobwhites will take habitat restoration on a landscape scale: from restoring quail habitats (and the beneficial disturbance cycles that sustain them) to protecting the remaining native habitats existing on private and public lands. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP) aims to help bobwhite by "focusing [restoration, management, and monitoring] efforts on areas large enough to support sustainable bobwhite populations but small enough for a reasonable chance at success."

In Virginia, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and QRI (or, "Virginia's Quail and Early Successional Species Recovery Initiative") lead the effort to coordinate with NBCI CIP. Their goals are to: 1) Restore and conserve early successional habitats throughout Virginia, 2) Promote education for the conservation of early-successional habitats, 3) Restore and conserve healthy populations of bobwhite quail and other early-successional species, and 4) Promote recreation and enjoyment of early-successional ecosystems.

VWL's Role:

VWL is a member of the Virginia Quail Council. VWL staff conduct bird and plant monitoring surveys at a single farm, which is not currently managed for bobwhite quail, in Northern Virginia.

Partners and Primary Investigators:

National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI)
Charlotte Lorick - Virginia Working Landscapes
National Bobwhite Technical Committee

Project Timeline & Status:

VWL has completed field work for 2018 - Ongoing



Related Resources:


Current Projects 

Conservation science and research is at the core of the Virginia Working Landscapes program. We collaborate with several partners to conduct innovative research and use results to help inform best management practices for biodiversity conservation.

Click on the images below to learn about our current or past research projects.


Grassland Biodiversity Surveys

Exploring how land management practices in local grasslands impact native wildlife

Drone Nesting Density Project

Assessing the feasibility of using drone technology to estimate grassland bird nesting density

Arthropod Nutritional Study

Quantifying arthropod abundance, diversity, and nutritional quality in native vs. non-native grasslands

Loggerhead Shrike Population Monitoring

Developing new survey protocols and assisting with state-led monitoring efforts



Pollen Study

Investigating the effects of native versus exotic pollen collection by native bumblebees on colony health

Northern Bobwhite Quail Monitoring

A project led by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Coordinated Implementation Program



Orchid Monitoring

Testing methods of orchid population monitoring with citizen science

Pollinator Conservation Project

The Xeric, Grassland, Barren, and Woodland Pollinator Conservation Project, led by the Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) Program





Past Projects 


Urban to Wild

Using camera traps to determine how many and what kind of mammals live on private properties along an urbanization gradient (wild, exurban, suburban, and urban)


Of the approximately 210 known orchids in North America, more than 60 percent are listed as threatened or endangered in all or part of their range. Many have disappeared from certain states. Although progress has been made in understanding basic orchid ecology and biology, conservation efforts are slow, which threatens native orchids’ long-term survival. Orchids are remarkably sensitive to environmental disturbances and, thus, their presence or absence may provide indicators as to the health of forest habitats. This is because orchids form complex symbiotic associations with mycorrhizae fungi at all life stages, and frequently have specialized habitat requirements and pollinator partnerships. Factors that influence any of these relationships could play a role in determining orchid population distributions. In order to enable the successful conservation of native orchids and/or to use orchid presence as an indicator of forest health, we must first determine the distribution of orchids (and their associated fungi and pollinators) as well as the interactions between orchids and the landscape.

In collaboration with the Changing Landscapes Initiative and Field Ecology Lab at SCBI, VWL is undertaking a project to determine the feasibility of a long-term orchid monitoring effort by citizen scientists, and to investigate orchid occupancy as a function of patch size and position along land use gradients. Broadly, VWL's role in this project is to engage with our network of  landowners to find properties for surveys, as well as to dedicate time and resources to developing survey methods, establishing survey plots, and training volunteers. Field work began summer 2018, with the establishment of 10 pilot study sites in three counties surrounding Front Royal, VA.

VWL's Role:

VWL provides a network of landowners who are interested in land use issues and land management best practices, who allow surveyors access to private property, opening up new areas for monitoring and research

Partners and Primary Investigators:

Amy Johnson - Virginia Working Landscapes
Iara Lacher - Changing Landscapes Initiative
Bill McShea - SCBI Field Ecology Lab

Project Timeline & Status:

Started Spring 2018


Related Resources:

North American Orchid Conservation Center webpage link



Every year, VWL staff and teams of SCBI scientists, graduate students, interns, and citizen scientists conduct biodiversity surveys on more than 150 properties in our 16-county study region (see: Where We Work). These surveys help us better understand the factors that affect the region’s biodiversity and also to develop best land management practices for people and wildlife.

Grasslands were selected as the initial focus because they were the least well-known among the working landscape types (e.g. forests, wetlands, streams and riparian zones) and had a known suite of declining species in need of further research. Moreover, although Virginia was mostly forested in precolonial times, it also included grasslands established and maintained by disturbance (i.e. storms, fires, and disease) and grazing. These grasslands were home to a suite of native plants -including warm season grasses, and the pollinators, birds, and other species that depended on them. 

In the past 200 years, our agricultural tradition has changed the landscape from nearly continuous forest to a mosaic of forests, grasslands, pasture, and croplands. Although these practices likely benefited some grassland species by opening up the landscape, much of these native grasslands have since been lost through historic conversion to Eurasian cool season grasses, intensive land management, and more recently, invasion by non-native plant species. Accordingly, many of the native plants, pollinators, and birds that depend on native warm season grasses have declined over the last half century due to the loss of natural habitats.

Farmlands and associated grasslands in Virginia have been disappearing over the last 50 years - lost to forest succession and development. Today, about half of the Commonwealth is forested; about 30-40% is grassland, pasture, and croplands, with the remainder being exurban or urban development. As the quality and quantity of grasslands decline, much of the biodiversity that supports and regulates our agricultural economy is lost. Yet, this biological wealth and the benefits that come from it, are essential for our individual and shared economic welfare. To that end, conservation biologists have become increasingly interested in sustaining biodiversity across a landscape that is composed of both public and private lands.

In Virginia, the overwhelming majority of working lands are held in private hands – more than 90% of Virginia is privately owned. Therefore, private landowners are both the keepers of their own economic well-being and the stewards of the natural resources of Virginia. In order for VWL to be successful we rely on community engagement with the landowners in the region. We recruit additional landowners each spring whose properties serve as new sites for our biodiversity surveys. At the end of each season we provide landowners a summary of species observed on their property. Taken together, data from each of these farms are being analyzed as part of a larger study on the relationship between land-management and native species biodiversity and long-term studies that will utilize these data to predict the future of our region’s landscapes.


VWL's Role:

VWL provides a network of landowners who are interested in land use issues and land management best practices, who allow surveyors access to private property, opening up new areas for monitoring and research

Project Impact:

Click here to read an interactive Story Map based on Dr. Amy Johnson's PhD dissertation, "Conservation and Land Management Practices and Their Impact on Sustaining Breeding and Non-Breeding Grassland Bird Populations in the Southeast." Her research used biodiversity data collected as part of this project to investigate the impact of land management on bird communities.

Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program

Often referred to as the “butcher bird,” the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is most known for impaling prey on thorns, branches, or barbed wire. However, this Virginia-native songbird is in decline. Potential reasons for their decline include excessive pesticide use, collisions with vehicles, adverse weather conditions, disease, and habitat loss. In collaboration with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), and Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC), VWL conducts research to better understand the causes of decline, and develop strategies to mitigate them.

VWL assists with inventorying and monitoring wild populations of Shrikes and their habitat in Virginia and West Virginia. Furthermore, we assist with banding of individuals better understand movement patterns and site fidelity, and collecting genetic samples to determine population health and connectivity. Monitoring our banded birds revealed that multiple individuals use the same sites throughout the year. Prior to banding, it was assumed these were the same birds occupying sites year-round. VWL will continue banding and population monitoring in 2018 and beyond.

As a part of the Loggerhead Shrike Working Group, VWL is developing monitoring protocols for citizen scientists working throughout the Loggerhead Shrike’s entire range. Data collected from these efforts will be used to identify critical knowledge gaps in Loggerhead Shrike breeding success and habitat use.

VWL used field data, collected by citizen scientists and submitted to eBird, to create an occupancy model which predicts Loggerhead Shrike occurrences in Virginia and the southeastern US. Our models suggest that they prefer open country habitat and avoid harsh weather/% forest cover. There may be a tradeoff between predation risk and increased cover from winter weather. With the help of our volunteers, we can advance Loggerhead Shrike conservation and recovery programs. If you spot a banded or un-banded Loggerhead Shrike in Virginia, please report your sighting(s) to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

In addition to in situ research efforts, WPC and the Center for Species Survival at SCBI are establishing a captive breeding population of Loggerhead Shrikes, and have already successfully released several captive birds in the wild. To learn more about the captive breeding program and the release of captive Shrikes in the wild here, here, and here.

The Animal Care team at SCBI assists with health and fitness assessments of wild and captive Loggerhead Shrikes. SCBI scientists will collect and use data to develop reference ranges for haematology, biochemistry, and acute phase proteins in shrikes. This will provide baseline health information on wild populations and improve veterinary care for captive breeding populations.

VWL will continue to update our findings as we continue our efforts to understand and reverse the decline of Loggerhead Shrikes.

Interested in learning more about this unique species? View our educational pamphlet here.


Partners and Primary Investigators:
Amy Johnson - Virginia Working Landscapes
Warren Lynch - SCBI
Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries
West Virginia Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife Preservation Canada



Situated on over 3,200 acres of forest, grassland, and stream habitat in Front Royal, VA, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is in unique position to facilitate large-scale experimental research on land management practices.

By partnering with SCBI, Virginia Working Landscapes is enabled to field-test land management and monitoring techniques and conduct active research into grassland biodiversity and sustainable land uses. Furthermore, VWL shares with the public any insights gained through this work, in order to help citizens implement effective land conservation efforts in their local community.

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Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630
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