Good Quail Hatch and Excellent Male Incubation—a Prelude to Good Fall Bird Numbers

The hatch results are in and they are good—no recount needed! Overall, bobwhite per capita nest and brood production in the Red Hills were moderately above average this year, compared to our historical records. Much of the hatch came from the early (May/June) and mid (July/Aug) season points, with a moderate contribution from the late (Sep/Oct) season hatch. However, adult bobwhite survival in the Red Hills was well below our long-term average.

In contrast to last year, cotton rat numbers seemed to dwindle throughout the breeding season this year, and attrition of our radio-tagged birds paralleled this pattern—adult survival decreased as cotton rat numbers decreased. In fact, this is the lowest adult survival we have seen in the Red Hills over the past 15 years. That said, 2 additional factors provide reason for optimism heading into the 2020–21 hunting season in terms of bobwhite abundance: (1) chick survival and (2) male incubation.

Despite a lot of snake activity, and high loss of bobwhite chicks to snakes this year, overall bobwhite chick survival remained above average; this was evident in scores of mega-broods observed this year which is oftentimes an artifact of the combination of good brood production and good chick survival. Timely rains and good cover conditions produced abundant insect crops and quality protective and foraging cover for broods coming into the fall. Our fall quail trapping efforts, so far, have also indicated good chick survival, especially for late (September and October) hatching chicks resulting in excellent fall recruitment of first year birds. Additionally, we observed that male incubation rates were 29% higher than our long-term average. This is important to fall hunting abundance, because we have recently discovered that male incubation patterns are more predictive of population growth than female incubation patterns. To read more about this, see our article in the latest Quail Call (click here to download). Therefore, high male incubation typically results in population increases. Covey call counts, conducted throughout the Red Hills and Albany area during October and November, confirm excellent male incubation forecasts, quality hatch numbers, and good chick survival, indicative of a moderate population increase (5-10%) in the Southeast.

Although good bobwhite numbers are anticipated this hunting season throughout the region, finding birds could still prove challenging and result in average to below average hunt success. The La Niña weather cycle we are in predicts above average temperatures and below average precipitation during the fall and winter in the Southeast. The warmer, drier weather can present difficult scent conditions for bird dogs, and impact bobwhite movement and behavior. Supplemental feeding can help to keep the birds in good condition during drought periods; keeping bird dogs watered, rotated and fresh should help hunt success during warmer days.

« Back to eNews