Red Hills and Albany Quail Hatch Meet Researchers' Expectations
By Dr. Bill Palmer, Director Game Bird Research
Hunters are reporting bobwhite populations in the Red Hills and Albany have met our predictions that quail populations were on the rise. While warmer than normal temperatures made hunting conditions less than ideal, most properties are reporting significant increases, up 30-50% over last year in the Red Hills area and 10 to 30% in the Albany Area. Interestingly, some properties near Albany with soils similar to the Red Hills area have also reported excellent gains.
While increases are due to excellent land management, we know that on Tall Timbers, above normal adult and chick survival fueled tremendous population growth this past summer. In Albany, while weather conditions were ideal, lower than normal breeding season survival appears to have reduced gains relative to properties in the Red Hills. Interestingly, our research on cotton rat densities would predict just this result, as densities of rats in Albany were only a tenth of those on Tall Timbers. The difference in rodent populations and survival rates of quail is a puzzle the Game Bird Program is focusing on, with the goal of finding management solutions.
Next year will bring?
We anticipate one more growth year for quail in the Red Hills area, similar to how 2001 set up great bird numbers in 2002; this past summer may set up a peak in quail numbers in the fall of 2010. However, we are watching demographic rates carefully to determine if this year is the peak quail population for this region. As declines are inevitable after reaching such high densities, the next E-News will focus on management practices that can help to reduce population declines, which we all know are only a matter of time! Briefly, some options to consider are increasing total harvest of quail this winter on areas with well above normal populations (> 3 quail per acre). This is because we have documented on several occasions a reduction in nesting rate of hens in the reproductive season following years with high densities. Typically quail harvests are conservative on the plantations, so there is room to enjoy an increased harvest, which may actually help your population the following year. However, if your population is above normal but < 3 quail per acre, increasing harvest may not be helpful. Another management option to consider is translocating quail from courses with very high numbers to courses with low numbers. This action in February and March should actually improve populations on both courses the subsequent fall. Finally, how you burn your woods next spring may have a major influence on breeding season survival rates. We will delve into this in the next E-News. Until then, enjoy the high numbers of quail while you have them!