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Tall Timbers Quail Project

Short-term research provides short-term insights.  As such, the hallmark of the Game Bird Program on Tall Timbers is the long-term nature of our work.  In fact, we have the longest running population study of any game bird in the U.S., begun in 1969 and still on-going.  The Game Bird Program depends on field studies on wild bobwhites to understand their ecology and provide management recommendations for sustaining and increasing their populations.  We depend on statistically-valid research designs to test ideas to make sure our data is robust.  We collaborate with researchers and universities across the U.S. More importantly, our methods are tested on over 600,000 acres of managed lands by talented managers and landowners and we owe much of our ideas and success to them!

Research is expensive and time demanding, but it provides objective information that managers can use to assess their program.  Our dedicated staff of biologists, technicians, graduate students and interns is in the field daily collecting data.   We have accomplished a wide variety of important research projects over the past 15 years.  A short list of recent long-term projects:

  • Scale of Fire Effects on Survival and Reproduction
  • Effects of supplemental feeding on bobwhite populations
  • Effect of feeding on behavior of coveys
  • Identifying Nest Predators
  • Effects of Nest Predator Control
  • Brood habitat selection
  • Diet of bobwhite chicks
  • Bobwhite chick survival and recruitment

How do we accomplish our research?

Banding

Tall Timbers has banded over 24,000 bobwhites since 1970

Tall Timbers has banded over 24,000 bobwhites since 1970.

Each year we band a sample of 600 to 1200 bobwhites during January and use this sample of “marked” birds to estimate annual survival rates for the Tall Timbers population and also to estimate the density of quail on Tall Timbers.  Most studies of survival rate find very low survival of bobwhites on unmanaged areas but in well-managed pine savannas like Tall Timbers, survival rates are as high today as they were in the 1970’s suggesting that only though good land stewardship can we sustain bobwhites.

Radio-Tagging

We place radio transmitters on 400 or more bobwhites per year on Tall Timbers, and several hundred additional transmitters are deployed in Albany and South Carolina.  Then we track these birds year-round, during the breeding season 7-days-a-week.  We depend on radio-tagged data to estimate movements and home range, seasonal survival, cause-specific mortality (predation), nesting rates, nesting success, and chick survival.  The radio-tagged sample of bobwhites, well over 20,000 collectively across all of the Game Bird Program’s and its partners studies, is how we determine how quail respond to management treatments in our studies.

Radiod hen up closeTelemtry locations

Locating quail on nestHen on nest

Broods

We capture broods at 8 to 11 days of age and wing tag them to estimate their survival rate and recruitment into the population.  To date we have wing-tagged over 1500 chicks.  This is a novel dataset and attempting to understand bobwhite chick survival rates and what influences them.

Chick killed by rat

Occasionally cotton rats prey on chicks

Wing tag

Alternative Prey

Release of Cotton Rat

To determine how rodent populations vary from year to year on Tall Timbers and in Albany, we estimate August density of cotton rats and cotton mice using eight 5 acre “trapping grids”.  Each grid contains 100 traps and they are checked over 5 consecutive days.  Earlier studies in which we monitored grids 6 times per year showed that August was the peak of cotton rat numbers in the annual cycle, thus today we only conduct grids in August.  Cotton rats are a principal prey item in the ecosystem and this influence quail survival and reproduction.

Predators Surveys

Each October we operate 50 scent stations to determine our “predator context” for the year.  This data is then used to relate how our nesting season quail demographics compare to the index of predator abundance.  Over time, and over dozens of properties, this type of data has helped us determine how to measure if nest predators a management concern on a property and if reducing them would be helpful in increasing fall populations.

Fall Covey Counts

Each November we conduct covey call counts to estimate our fall population.  Covey call method was developed at Tall Timbers. To do so we measure the number of bobwhite coveys within 12 60 acre grids on the property.  We conduct point counts and grid counts on dozens of other properties to determine how the regional quail population is fluctuating relative to our study populations and to determine how management applied on properties is affecting their quail populations.

Quail flush

Our year-round monitoring of bobwhite population demographics is core to our mission to determine best management practices for bobwhites.   In addition to this, we monitoring rainfall, vegetation growth, burning, and all our data is spatially-referenced.