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Portrait Gallery: Kelly Reyna, director, UNT Quail

Kelly  Reyna, UNT QuailKelly Reyna is on a mission to preserve and improve the Northern bobwhite quail population. Away from the office, he’s not exactly away from the office. He enjoys hunting, fishing and being outdoors.

What is your official title and how long have you been at UNT?

My official title is research assistant professor and director of UNT Quail.  I started this position in September of 2011.

What is your background and education?

I was a nuclear reactor operator onboard a U.S. Navy submarine following high school.  Afterwards, I obtained my first degree from Georgia Military College in Nuclear Science and became an engineer for a telecom company in Dallas. I always had a love for the outdoors and really couldn’t stand being cooped up in a cubicle. As a result, I quit my job to return to college and become a wildlife professor.

I obtained a bachelor of science from Tarleton State University in wildlife biology, a master of science from Texas A&M University in wildlife and fisheries sciences and a doctorate in biology (quail developmental physiology) from UNT. 

I worked with Texas AgriLife Extension as the Texas Quail Index Coordinator and also with the National Audubon Society as the senior manager for quail and grassland birds before coming to UNT to develop and direct UNT-Quail.

In addition to my UNT duties, I’m a board member for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Quail Roundtable, the TPWD Texas Quail Science Team, and the National Quail Science Team for the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. I also chair the parks board for the city of Krum.

Northern Bobwhite Quail; photo by Ron NewWhy did you choose wildlife as a career?

I grew up hunting and fishing with my family.  I could never sit still in a hunting blind and loved hunting the woods and prairies, on foot. Quail hunting takes place on foot and is really majestic. Bird dogs work the country and suddenly lock on point.  It is really a site to see and never gets old.  I suppose I chose quail because of my passion for hunting and the need for creative solutions to the declining populations of quail in Texas. Quail are ecologically and economically important to Texas.  Ultimately, I’m working to restore the quail populations to sustainable levels so that the treasured Texas hunting heritage can continue to future generations. Left, Northern bobwhite.

Isn’t it counterproductive to conserve quail so they can be killed?

Quail are “r-selected” species and are largely at the bottom of the food chain. Accordingly, they have a high mortality rate, losing more than 50 percent of the population each year.  As a result, modest hunting pressure (≤20%) has little to no effect on large populations. Quail hunting is very important to Texas.  Quail hunters contribute to the survival of rural economies and fund large portions of quail research.

What is the major threat to quail?

Without quail hunting, quail would likely go extinct. Quail hunting is dependent on sustainable quail populations; accordingly, quail hunters fund a large portion of quail research. Quail hunting can impact small populations, so quail hunters have to vary their hunting pressure according to population size.  A good rule of thumb is to harvest 20 percent (or less) of the local quail population.

Habitat loss due to urban sprawl, changing land-use practices or simply ecological progression. Without habitat, you have no quail. I do think we’ve historically underestimated the amount of habitat needed to sustain quail populations. Previous reports indicate that quail can thrive on 800 acres. I think the number is more like 5,000 acres. As you can see while driving across the state, many 5,000 acre parcels are being fragmented and sold. That is why I’ve created the North Texas Quail Corridor Initiative. This program eliminates the threat of habitat loss by putting together large acreages of quail habitat. That way, we can monitor the population response and work to identify and eliminate other detrimental factors. It’s solution based conservation.

What new techniques are you using?

I’m working to implement research solutions that contribute to the long-term sustained future of quail populations.  In doing that, I simply identify and eliminate threats to quail. For habitat loss, the North Texas Quail Corridor Initiative is eliminating fragmentation of quail habitat within a large region.  Another very important threat is heat stress during Texas droughts. I am currently working on ways to mitigate the impact of heat on quail.

Away from UNT, what are your hobbies?

Lady Bird, Kelly Reyna's German shorthaired pointerI spend a lot of time with my wife and two kids. I am the head coach of my son’s little league baseball team and we love to travel, camp, fish and ride bikes. Personally, I love most outdoor activities but have a real hankering for fly fishing and bird hunting.

I met my wife Debbie when I was an engineer in Dallas.  She saw me on an elevator and stalked me until she found out who I was. That was 15 years ago and we’ve been together ever since. We also have two dogs, Jogger and Lady Bird. Lady Bird, right, is a German shorthaired pointer and great bird hunter.

Favorite book or movie about wildlife?

I love books about Theodore Roosevelt and stories written by Havilah Babcock.  I also really enjoy reading works by Herbert Stoddard and Aldo Leopold.  I make my students read Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.

Do you eat quail? If so, do you have a favorite cooking style or recipe?

I eat everything I harvest while hunting and fishing, but quail is my favorite. I love fried quail and had a grand experience at my Ph.D. graduation party when my wife made deviled quail eggs.  However, I think my favorite is a recent recipe of my wife’s that was baked, fried quail.  She fried the quail first, then baked them with vegetables, onions and spices.  It was fabulous. I would give you the recipe but it’s a secret. 

(It's not possible to know everyone on a big, busy campus. So InHouse periodically publishes Portrait Gallery features to help us learn about our colleagues and their contributions to the university's success. Send suggestions for Portrait Gallery subjects by email to InHouse with "Portrait Gallery" in the subject line.)

Posted on: Wed 05 September 2012

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