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.
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.