Quail Hatch – So Far So Good
By Dr. Bill Palmer, Game Bird Program Director
The quail hatch is off to a solid start! As predicted bobwhite survival remains relatively high for the Red Hills Region and moderately high in the Albany Region. In the Thomasville and Tallahassee areas cotton rat populations remain high. Previous research has suggested that rats cycle on a 6 to 10-year period. It is interesting that the last memorable peak was during 2001-02 in the Red Hills area, about nine years ago. In that year rat numbers were so high we documented cotton rats actually biting the legs of bobwhite chicks during the night while they were brooded by parents. One puzzle we are witnessing is that so far rat numbers on some of the Albany area plantations have remained low, despite peaking during the same 1 to 2-year period that the Red Hills did. The Game Bird Program will be addressing the causes of these regional differences with experiments on sites across the plantation community.
At left, intern Matt Tilley with captured quail chick. At right, gamebird biologist Shane Wellendorf weighs chick. Photos by Bud Bostick
Nesting rates have also been good, but they are sensitive to feeding rates, at least on Tall Timbers. Thus far, bobwhites on our heavily fed areas (2 bu/ac/yr) have out produced birds on the lightly fed site (1/2 bu/ac/yr) by 2-fold and on the no feed site by 4-fold. Game bird staff has banded over 60 chicks hatched from radio-tagged hens on the heavily fed site while none on the other two treatments thus far. Nesting success has been highest on the heavily fed site, and lowest on the 0.5 and no feed sites. Evidence continues to mount that feeding promotes an increased alternative prey community that reduces predation pressure on bobwhites and their nests.
Banded quail chick. Photo by Shane Wellendorf
Weather conditions have been mostly warm and dry with the region receiving slightly below average rainfall totals for the year thus far. This has produced very good conditions for chick survival. Brood captures on Tall Timbers are indicating early survival of chicks (1 to 12 days of age) has been above average. Taken collectively, thus far, the stars are aligning for a third year in a row of increasing bobwhite populations. However, as we write this, a tropical storm may be forming in the Gulf of Mexico and in that regard November seems long-time coming.