Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bleak Quail Forecast

I was checking out the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's website earlier today when I stumbled across their annual quail forecast. According to the website, the state has been conducting quail surveys since 1978 in an effort to monitor the quail population and determine trends throughout different regions of the state. They use randomly selected 20-mile road surveys to gather the data.

Since I primarily hunt in the Cross Timbers region of the state, I clicked on the link to see the 2009-2010 quail outlook for this particular region.

Not good!

This year's survey results revealed the worst quail numbers in the Cross Timbers region in the 30+ years of the survey. The mean number of bobwhites seen during this year's roadside counts was a whopping 1.11 birds. That is a far cry from the 38.26 birds seen on average during the 1987 counts!

There is no doubt that quail have been in a downward spiral for the last two decades. I decided to look a little closer at the numbers and do some of my own calculations. Here is a quick breakdown of the quail survey numbers since the roadside counts began.

1st decade (1978-1987) - Average of 22.65 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route
2nd decade (1988-1997) - Average of 14.31 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route
3rd decade (1998-2007) - Average of 5.30 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route
This decade (2008-2009) - Average of 2.26 bobwhites observed per 20-mile route

The numbers are staggering. Why the downfall? Just like with any wild animal, there are many factors that affect the population. Some people claim the fireants have played a role in the quail decline. While that may be a factor, I don't think it is the primary reason.

May I suggest it is due to a combination of the following conditions:
habitat fragmentation, overgrazing by livestock, and the lack of fire.

Quail habitat definitely isn't what it once was. Large ranches and farms with contiguous habitat are becoming increasingly fewer and farther between.

Many ranchers allow their cattle to graze the same pasture year-round without rotating them or allowing the pasture to rest for an extended period.

And everybody and their brother are on the local volunteer fire department and get grass fires put out before you can say "Bobwhite". Yeah, one might get out of hand occasionally, but most wildfires are contained before large pastures are burned. Quail thrive on fresh growth after an area has burned, and believe it or not, that fire puts essential nutrients back into the soil and activates a seed bank that could have been dormant for years.

While the outlook isn't good, quail are a very resilient bird, and they always seem to bounce back. I just hope they haven't gotten past the point of no return.


Bio Bo said...

Habitat loss is no doubt the key, but with quail the key habitat loss is usually a loss of proper cover. Quail, as you probably know, require cover overhead with bare ground underneath for the chicks to move around and survive. Grasses with thick mattes at the ground level, such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, bromegrasses, and bermudagrass, do not make good habitat for quail, especially when broadcast over a large area for erosion control or for hayfields. Too many properties are planting these grasses for stock and erosion control, and they are not allowing edge cover and fencerows to be utilized for wildlife. The brambles and native grasses that will sprout from simply disking the fence rows every 2-4 years would do wonders for bringing back the quail populations. But they would not look nearly as pretty from the front porch or when all the neighbors drive by...

Sarah said...

Hi Rob- I came across your blog on the Ducks Unlimited website. I enjoy your writing because you talk about two of my favorite subjects- the Lord and hunting. I'm studying elementary education in grad school right now. It's harder than I thought it would be, but I guess anything worth pursuing usually is. Take care and keep the faith. -Sarah

r. hurd said...

Bama usually has a great quail season....because most of them aren't native. Bird hunting is fragile and I just hope it can recover like the whitetail has.

Thanks for the comment. I most certainly appreciate it.

Quacky Calls said...

Wow, a very sore subject for me as i live in Eastern North Carolina which was overrun with quail just 14-16 years ago.

In this short amount of time i have seen the quail numbers go from locating 5-6 coveys a day 20 birds strong to hunting all day now and only locating a covey of about 5-6 birds. Really, really sad.

The sprays utilized on the cotton crop throughout the state is for one the number one killer of quail in our state, habitat depletions and clean cut farming. No early successional growth anymore.

Oh, don't even ask a biologist about the question or concerns of quail. Our State Biologist write all of these elaborate reports in state magazines every year and never mention the chemicals...go figure.

No doubt, it has taken it's toll on such a beautiful wildlife resource that i don't believe we will ever see in great numbers again.
Sadly enough, i tell my wife i wish i had lived years ago versus now with all of the increased human populace and our beautiful wildlife have to suffer.

Too many people not enough resources it seems.

Maybe one day the wildlife commissions will get serious about cooperative plans with landowners but...Spit in one hand, hope in the other.

In the meanwhile if you find a covey keep it to yourself by God.

Eastern NC