Quail Hatch is Going Strong
By Dr. Bil Palmer, Game Bird Research Program Director
Reports from managers suggest that across the Red Hills and Albany region, bobwhite populations will be increased; our telemetry data on Tall Timbers is documenting the increased productivity this year. The Albany Quail Management Project (AQMP) reports the hatch in Albany has been solid thus far and conditions are favorable for a strong late hatch.
Nesting performance of bobwhites is near record levels for Tall Timbers. We have already hatched 64 nests for every 100 hens alive at the beginning of the nesting season! To compare, in 2002 a record year regionally, we hatched 70 nests per 100 hens for the entire nesting season. Nesting is still ongoing with several new nests discovered this week on Tall Timbers and by the AQMP. We are predicting a sizeable mid to late August hatch that will add to chicks already produced. Not to be left out, males on Tall Timbers have hatched 30 nests for every 100 males entering the nesting season, as many nests as hens hatched in all of the 2004 nesting season. Chick survival has also been high this past summer, partially due to excellent weather conditions, hot days intermixed with moderate rainfall. Together this makes for one of the best hatches of quail on Tall Timbers, and barring any weather-related “tropical” tragedy we should see marked increases in fall populations this year.
Both weather and predator-prey dynamics are important factors to regional quail populations. We continue to document cotton rat abundance each on our eight mark-recapture trapping grid arrays. Cotton rat abundance is of interest because they are the primary prey item for most quail predators and as their numbers increase quail survival tends to increase. We began to see an increase in cotton rat numbers last year along with regional quail population increases. Cotton rat trapping-banding has just been completed for this year but numbers of captures were up significantly over the past few years. High cotton rat abundance has correlated with high autumn bobwhite densities over the past two regional bobwhite population peaks.
Regional increases in bobwhite populations indicate two things. First that good habitat management and stable populations provide the basis for quail populations to take advantage of “good times” created by favorable weather, food abundance, and low predation. Second, we must be careful not to ascribe this year’s population growth to any one management action this past year. For instance, a change in how fields were managed or burning was completed while potentially important, was not the likely ultimate cause of the increase. That said, our long-term supplemental feeding study continues to show important management implications and year-around feeding is one of those management practices that can facilitate large population increases when conditions are good. More details of these results that will be fully explored in the upcoming Quail Call later this summer.