Counting quail calls can point to covey health come fall

May 15, 2024

The whistle of a bobwhite quail is music to any landowner or bird hunter’s ear.

But it can also be a useful tool in summer to assess a property’s quail population, provide a glimpse into how the birds have responded to management practices or give a breeding outlook as the birds begin to mate and nest.

Typically conducted starting in the third week of May and lasting through June, the technique is simple. Once a week for the first three hours after sunrise, listen from a set of predetermined points in quail habitat on your property for five minutes at each location.

During that time, count and record individual male quail whistles within an audible range, roughly 500 yards. This process can be repeated at as many as 15 locations throughout the survey period. Listening points should be at least half a mile apart throughout the property to ensure independent coverage. Typically, clear days with light winds and no rain are more productive listening days.

The spring whistle counts can be a useful index to predict fall covey numbers but can also be used to monitor periods of peak nesting, said Tall Timbers Red Hills Game Bird Research and Extension Biologist Alex Jackson.

Typically, each male heard whistling equates to one covey come fall. But if those numbers differ – say a smaller ratio – they could be indicators of how healthy of a hatch the birds had.

“Spring whistle counts are one of several monitoring tools landowners and managers can use to identify how bobwhite populations respond to management on a given property,” Jackson said. “It’s one of the most enjoyable things to do in the spring. Birds are whistling like crazy and fresh growth is returning after burns.”

In 2022, Tall Timbers Game Bird researchers helped conduct whistle counts on 50 private properties.

quail map

Tall Timbers’ Game Bird Program has expanded to include regional offices in the Southeast.

The close monitoring of properties and work with landowners is a key part of Tall Timbers’ Game Bird Program. Over the years, the program has expanded to include dedicated biologists in regional quail programs in locations across the Southeast.

Outside of our core Red Hills and Albany regions, biologists are located in the Central Florida Rangeland Quail Program, the Carolina Regional Quail Program, the Alabama Quail Program, and in Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas with the Western Pineywoods Quail Program. 

Conducting whistle call counts on your property is a fun way to get out and see what your quail population looks like. Check out a simple how-to guide and contact Tall Timbers’ Game Bird regional programs in your area if you have questions.

Looking for a deeper dive into the ecology and management of bobwhites in their eastern range? Check out Tall Timbers’ Bobwhite Quail Management Handbook.


Watch this video on why spring whistle counts are important

About the Author
Karl Etters
A Tallahassee native, Karl has a background in journalism and an even deeper background in exploring North Florida's wild spaces. Merge the two, and he's Tall Timbers' communication coordinator. When he's not spending time with family and friends, he can be found fly fishing, hunting, biking or walking the woods looking for turkeys.
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