Bobwhite Quail Management and Supplemental Feeding
By: Justin Bryan
I’m often asked about what can be done to manage for quail in Texas. In response, my shoulders sink, I shove my hands in my pockets, kick a little dirt, take a deep sigh and respond with a less than enthusiastic statement of, “Yep, that is a good question.” These dang bobwhite quail are just a hard-headed species…they only want things their way or else they will take their ball and go home. Why can’t they be like deer and move into the suburbs, eat your plants, reproduce, and live on your lawn? Bobwhite quail management is no walk in the park.
If it is too hot, they delay nesting or won’t nest; if it is too cold, they delay nesting or won’t nest. They need rain but too much rain will drown them and/or their chicks. Tasty, the little buggers are tasty to every bobcat, hawk, anteater, snake, platypus, and coyote around. They are borderline high maintenance, in my opinion…but I guess I still like them. The quail management techniques aren’t the hard part, it’s keeping the quail alive that is the challenge.
Ultimately we know that providing ample amounts of “quail habitat” is the most important component in the quail survival equation. Second…is pray that it rains. Best case scenario, we are blessed with wet and cool spring and summer months. These are conditions that provide the best opportunity for quail to decide to nest and renest and possibly nest again. In addition, these are the conditions that are best for forb, grass and insect production…those things quail need for cover and food sources. We can create and maintain the habitat via judicious rangeland management practices but we can’t make it rain or reduce the summer temps. However, if we have the habitat we can provide supplemental feed to assist those birds in maintaining adequate body condition to increase survival and desire to nest.
Since bobwhite quail tend to be a sensitive species yet beloved by everyone, researchers such as Dr. Brad Dabbert at Texas Tech University continue to investigate new and improved management techniques to provide these birds with a better opportunity to survive year in, year out. Taking a note from the Tall Timbers Research Station (TTRS) and their quail management efforts, Dr. Dabbert has modified the TTRS supplemental feed distribution technique to possibly make broadcast feeding an applicable quail management method that actually works. Since 2010, Dr. Dabbert and his students have been investigating the feasibility of broadcasting supplemental feed (milo/sorghum) into pastures (*not spreading on the road) to provide a reliable year-round food source to wild bobwhite quail populations. The hypothesis is that the supplemental feed will allow the quail to stay healthy throughout the year and thus increase annual survival rates which would lead to higher numbers of birds nesting/hatching during the spring and summer. In general, bobwhite populations fluctuate heavily up and down, year in and year out, depending on weather conditions. During extended periods of drought – which are common, bobwhite population can become very low in numbers, which is a concern for the species in general.
Historically, supplemental feeding of bobwhite quail has shown to have little to no positive impact but Dr. Dabbert’s current research may create some hope yet. Interestingly, a heavy snow event occurred during this study – bobwhites that were in feed areas suffered less than 10 percent mortality while those quail in non-feed areas neared a mortality rate of 50 percent. Further data shows that bobwhites in areas where feed is broadcast are nesting earlier than areas without feed. In addition, those birds nesting in fed pastures are showing very high nest survival rates.
Upon completion, this experimental study revealed that this method of supplemental feeding for quail management can in fact increase survival from 10 to 50 percent between October and April each year as compared to birds not receiving feed. The average increase in survival over the four years of the study was 22 percent. The difference in survival rate can be expressed as the number of chicks that each adult must produce during the breeding season in order for the population to be stable. On average, birds receiving supplemental food only needed to produce four chicks per surviving adult to maintain a stable population, because there were more adults alive at the start of the breeding season. In contrast, birds without access to supplemental feed needed to produce ten chicks per surviving adult to maintain a stable population. It is easier, of course, for the bird with access to supplemental feed to produce four chicks than it is for the adult without access to supplemental feed to produce ten chicks.
For more information on quail management and concerning this ongoing research, follow the link to the Texas Tech quail research website: http://www.quail-tech.org/. For assistance in creating and maintaining ideal quail habitat and quail populations contact us at Hall and Hall.