Game Bird Program

Game Bird Research

Where Science Meets Management

The Cooperative Quail Study Investigation pioneered by Herbert Stoddard during the 1920s forged the way for effective and productive bobwhite management during his time, laying the foundation for our research investigations of today. Building on this legacy, the Game Bird Program monitors wild bobwhites to understand their ecology and provide management recommendations for sustaining and increasing their populations.

A widely accepted tenet in the Game Bird Lab is that good research tends to produce more questions than answers, and the more one learns the less one discovers that they actually know. We have found that short-term research often provides short-term insights. As such, the hallmark of the Game Bird Program at Tall Timbers is the long-term nature of their work.  In fact, we maintain one of the longest running population studies on any game bird in the U.S., begun in 1969 and still on-going today. 

Despite research being expensive and time demanding, it provides objective information that managers can use to assess their program. Each year more than 1,000 bobwhites are radio-tagged and monitored by game bird program staff on several properties from Florida to Maryland, providing valuable regionally-specific management information for land use practitioners in the Southeast and along the East Coast. The science-based information collected helps to calibrate and refine management practices which is tested on multiple study sites throughout the Southeast. More importantly, these methods are applied and verified on over 700,000 acres of managed lands by talented managers and landowners in the Red Hills and Albany region, and we owe much of our ideas and success to them!

The northern bobwhite is the principal study species in the Game Bird Lab, however research on the Eastern Wild Turkey, Hispid Cotton Rat, Red-Imported Fire Ant, and various snake, avian and mammalian predators of quail provide for an ecologically diverse approach to understanding ecosystem processes and management. An integral component shaping the ecosystems that bobwhite inhabit is fire; and, as such, fire impacts on bobwhite behavior and demographics remains a common research theme. A major current research focus, however, is bobwhite chick ecology.

Tall Timbers has banded over 35,000 bobwhites since 1970.
More than 1,000 radio-tags are deployed annually by the Game Bird Program
Radio-telemetry provides important demographic data such as information on survival and nesting

Bobwhite Chick Research

Chick ecology represents one the biggest gaps in knowledge of bobwhites. Of all the demographics for bobwhite populations, chick survival and factors influencing it remains the largest unknown. Bobwhites are precocial, meaning the young are relatively “mature”, can feed on their own almost immediately and are mobile from the moment of hatch. However, bobwhite chicks hatch with limited plumage and are incapable of thermoregulation on their own, requiring parental care to keep warm and to learn behaviors important to survival such as feeding and predator avoidance. The current research focus on chick ecology is designed to gain a better understanding of neonate survival, causes of mortality, habitat use, and social dynamics.

Tall Timbers game bird researchers were among the first to patagial (wing) tag bobwhite chicks and now have collectively banded more than 4,000 bobwhite chicks since 1999. More recently, Dr. Theron Terhune, developed a technique to suture miniature radio-tags to 11+ day old bobwhite quail chicks. These methods coupled with the integration of novel techniques such thermal imagery and drone mapping provides a new window into chick ecology and bobwhite management.

11-day old chick with a sutured radio-tag
Thermal imagery used to count bobwhite chicks
1-day old chicks leaving nest after hatch

Hunt Success and Harvest Management Research

Hunter-covey encounter rates and harvest may have complex effects on bobwhite population dynamics, hunter satisfaction, and hunter retention, especially on public lands. Beyond direct harvest effects, indirect effects associated with hunting can cause significant behavioral shifts in foraging, habitat use, vigilance and predator avoidance. Understanding these impacts related to hunting is an integral, yet understudied, part of bobwhite management. In many ways it remains a relatively untapped opportunity to improve resource management, hunting regulations, and factors related to hunter satisfaction. For example, crippling loss is a known artifact of hunting but reliable quantification of crippling loss and integration into overall harvest estimates is often neglected.

Hunt success is often calibrated in terms of hunter satisfaction and numerous management practices can be employed that result in improving the quality of a hunting experience. However, these same practices may also incur increased predation risk on bobwhites from avian and mammalian predators. From an ecological standpoint, Northern Bobwhite are a good model species to study this trade-off between resource acquisition and predation risk. From a management standpoint, a key to population stability is understanding how to balance hunting success with natural attrition on a bobwhite population.

Traditional Horseback Hunt
Radio-telemetry conducted from Horseback
Northern Bobwhite hen harvested

Predator-Prey Dynamics

Bobwhite are a part of a much larger complex food web in fire-maintained ecosystems of the South, and the interplay of habitat and predation play a large role in bobwhite demographics in the Southeast.  From Cooper’s hawks, to corn snakes and cotton rats, bobwhite quail, their eggs and their chicks are eaten by scores of predator species and a handful of others not typically considered predators, including rarely deer and squirrels.

The Game Bird Program recognizes that to fully understand bobwhite population dynamics they must be studied as part of a larger ecosystem, including habitat, predators, disease, genetics, and of course weather.  Historically, relatively little research has been conducted on predation and bobwhite populations. As such, predation is a focus of the lab: not just through predator control type studies, but by considering the process of predation and how it relates to habitat, food resources, and the temporal and spatial variation in both predators and alternative prey sources. In doing so, the aim of predator-prey research is to provide land mangers an objective approach to assessing the predator context and understanding what management action is necessary to improve bobwhite population performance.

Graduate student with a Golden Mouse
Graduate student with yellow rat snake that depredated
4 quail chicks
Cotton rat with ear tag

Translocation Research

Translocation has become a reliable conservation tool for establishing, reestablishing, or augmenting existing populations. The ultimate goal of translocation is to increase population abundance and reduce the risk of local population extinction; its efficacy, however, is predicated on site fidelity, survival, and then reproduction of the individuals being released to confer genetic and demographic benefits.

The Game Bird Program is a leading authority on bobwhite translocation, publishing more peer-reviewed articles on the topic than anyone else in the country. When the quality of habitat is good to high and when the property size is large enough to hold the birds, translocation is greatly successful as a restoration tool. But, translocation is not a panacea for population recovery and has limitations. A goal of Dr. Terhune’s Lab is to conduct research to help refine translocation and reintroduction science such that the side boards of its success are known, and responsible stewardship of a limited bobwhite resource is realized, maximizing population recovery.

Translocated birds released in New Jersey
Releasing the 4000th translocated quail
Translocation release in Maryland

Recent Game Bird Program Publications

2018

Terhune, T. M., S. D. Wellendorf, and W. E. Palmer. Estimates of Northern Bobwhite Chick Survival and Impacts of Weather in the Southeast. In Revision. Journal of Wildlife Management.

Terhune, T. M., II, D. Caudill, V. H. Terhune, and J. A. Martin. In Revision. A modified suture technique for attaching radio-transmitters to northern bobwhite chicks. Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Palmer, W. E. , J. P. Carroll, D. C. Sisson, S. D. Wellendorf, T. M. Terhune, II, S. N. Ellis-Felege, and J. A. Martin. In Revision. Reduction in meso-mammal nest predators improves northern bobwhite demographics. Journal of Wildlife Management.

Jackson, A. L., W. E. Palmer, D. Clay Sisson, T. M. Terhune, II, and J. A. Martin. 2018 Partial meso-mammal predator removal positively affects northern bobwhite reproduction. Wildlife Biology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2981/wlb.00357

McGrath, D.M., T. M. Terhune, II, J. A. Martin. 2018. Northern Bobwhite foraging response to hunting. Journal of Wildlife Management 82:1026-1038. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21451

McGrath, D.M., T. M. Terhune, II, J. A. Martin. 2018. Vegetation and predator interactions affect northern bobwhite behavior. Journal of Wildlife Management 82:883-1085. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21441

McLaughlin, J. W., D. S. Wiley, C. B. Dabbert, and T. M. Terhune, II. 2018. Broadcast supplemental feeding and northern bobwhite demographics in Texas. Journal of Wildlife Management 82: 000 – 000. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21557

2017

Terhune, T. M., II, K. Malone, D. C. Sisson, and J. A. Martin. 2017. Statistical population reconstruction using wings from harvested Northern Bobwhites can inform management. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:241-247.

Janke, A. K., T. M. Terhune, II, R. J. Gates, and B. Long. 2017. Northern Bobwhite population responses to winter weather along their northern range periphery. Wildlife Society Bulletin 41: 000-000. DOI: 10.1002/wsb.779

Havran, J. C., K. Stowe, T. A. Blanchard, K. L. Kandl, M. E. Kimball, S. C. Richter, H. Swain, F. E. Lohrer, D. A. Angell, and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. Education at Field Stations and Marine Laboratories in the Southeastern United States. Southeastern Naturalist 16:000-000.

Caudill, D., M. R. Guttery, T. M. Terhune, II, J. A. Martin, G. Caudill, D. K. Dahlgren, and T. A. Messmer. 2017. Individual heterogeneity and projecting the effects of harvest on Greater Sage-Grouse. Journal of Wildlife Management 81: 754-765. DOI:10.1002/jwmg.21241

Kamps, J. T., W. E. Palmer, T. M. Terhune, II, G. Hagan, and J. A. Martin. 2017. Effects of Fire management on Northern Bobwhite brood ecology. European Journal of Wildlife Research 63:27-37. DOI 10.1007/s10344-017-1078-5

Sisson, D. C., T. M. Terhune, II, W. E. Palmer, and R. E. Thackston. 2017. Contributions of translocation to Northern Bobwhite population recovery. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:151-159.

Sisson, D. C. and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. Effect of field trials on Northern Bobwhite survival and hunt quality on Dixie Plantation. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:282-286.

Sisson, D. C. and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. Use of spring whistle counts to predict Northern Bobwhite relative abundance. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:248-253.

Macaluso, W. C., C. K. Williams, and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. Testing Northern Bobwhites reintroduction techniques in the northern edge of their range. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:175-183.

Lunsford, K. D., J. A. Martin, and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. The effect of age on post-release survival of adoptive parent-reared bobwhite chicks. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:167-174.

Haines, A., D. C. Sisson, W. E. Palmer, R. Gitzen, C. Lepcyzk, and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. Impacts of red-imported fire ants on Northern Bobwhite nest survival. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:335-343.

Martin, J. A., R. D. Applegate, T. V. Dailey, M. Downey, B. Emmerich, F. Hernandez, M. M. McConnell, D. Rollins, Rebekah E. Ruzicka and T. M. Terhune, II. 2017. Translocation as a population restoration technique for northern bobwhites: a review and synthesis. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 8:1-16.

McGrath, D.M., T. M. Terhune, II, J. A. Martin. 2017. Northern Bobwhite habitat use in a food subsidized and pyric landscape. Journal of Wildlife Management 81:919-927. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21254

2016

Terhune, T. M., K. R. Aldinger, D. B. Buehler, D. J. Flaspohler, J. L. Larkin, J. P. Loegering, K. L. Percy, A. M. Roth, C. G. Smalling, and P. B. Wood. 2016. Golden-winged Warbler nest-site habitat selection. Studies in Avian Biology.

Caudill, C. D., T. M. Terhune, B. Bibles, and T. A. Messmer. 2016. Factors affecting seasonal movements of juvenile Greater Sage-Grouse: A reconceptualized nest survival model. Condor. 118: 139-147.

Janke, A. K., R. J. Gates, and T. M. Terhune. 2015. Habitat influences northern bobwhite survival at fine spatiotemporal scales. Condor. 117:41-52.

Aldinger, K. R., T. M. Terhune, P. B.Wood, D. B. Buehler, M. H. Bakersmans, J. L. Confer, D. J. Flaspohler, J. L. Larkin, J. P. Loegering, K. L. Percy, A. M. Roth, and C. G. Smalling. 2015. A Broad-scale Assessment of Factors Correlated with Golden-winged Warbler Reproductive Parameters. Avian Conservation and Ecology. 10(1):6 http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ACE-00748-100106