Helicopter Bobwhite Quail Surveys and Quail Management
By: Justin Bryan
Bobwhite quail are a finicky bird. They prefer, no honestly they need, more vegetative cover (warm-season grass and forbs) than most grazers are willing to part with and with an expiration date of about one year we could almost re-term them from “finicky” to firmly “high maintenance”. As quail managers/hunters we pray for our spring and hopefully early summer to be “nesting friendly” …cool and wet (not flooding). Yet we haven’t figured out how to actually control the weather. Therefore, it seems God gives us those conditions about one out of every three years on average. With a third of our time actually being spent able to pursue these birds in the field that leaves us with two-thirds of our time trying to learn more about bobwhite quail and how to maintain, if not increase their numbers and distribution across Texas. Apart of this is tracking effective quail management techniques including helicopter bobwhite quail surveys. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, bobwhite quail breeding numbers have declined at a rate of 3.9% per year from 1970 – 2009. Therefore, numbers and distribution are a concern.
As private land managers the more we can learn about the quail populations that reside on our recreational properties the greater the chance that we can implement actions that provide the opportunity to maintain and/or increase the populations and distribution across the landscape. Each year as we employ these actions we would ideally like to be able to at least estimate the growth or lack thereof and distribution/expanded use of the landscape by these populations. In other words, annual estimation of density and distribution is the yard-stick we use to confirm our success or lack thereof in maintaining or increasing quail populations.
Helicopter bobwhite quail surveys provide the technique required to conduct adequate quail surveys and population estimates. *Note, counting quail during a deer survey will not allow a person to collect accurate data for quail population estimations. Deer surveys and quail surveys have different protocols for collecting appropriate data.
Ideally fall Texas quail surveys are flown in late October in North Texas and early December in South Texas. Fall surveys provide an idea of nesting success (recruitment) and an estimate of the number of birds available going into the hunting season. Thus in addition to acquiring an idea of recruitment – which is really what all our hard work is about – more birds consistently on the ground; harvest recommendations can be established, as overharvest is not an option. Spring surveys should be conducted in March following the end of the quail hunting season. The quail surveys provide managers with a better understanding of overwinter mortality. By conducting these two quail surveys annually we begin to better understand our quail population, how it uses the habitat, and we can determine what management techniques should be implement to provide the opportunity for these populations to thrive year in, year out.
It has probably been an adage that is overused but, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” It is common for landowners to spend extensive funds reclaiming abused or unmanaged rangelands in the name of better grazing conditions and wildlife production. Therefore, monitoring the progress of those goals is part of the process. Helicopter bobwhite quail surveys is an effective way to do this. Otherwise we are dealing with anecdotal data…”it appears, it seems, it looks like” and that just doesn’t work with quail management and on a high maintenance species.
Contact Hall and Hall to enhance your property, including quail surveys.