Disease May Be Harming Quail

There's a new theory into a decline that probably has a variety of culprits.

Even among biologists, there is much debate regarding the decline of bobwhite quail populations throughout much of the South. The suspects include fire ants, habitat destruction, a predator boom and even egg-snatching turkeys. Apparently we can add one more theory to the fold: disease.

As reported by Texas A&M's AgriLife News:

"Quail season has been disappointing," said Dr. Dale Rollins, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist at San Angelo. "By Texas standards, wild quail hunting has been sub-par since 2006, and I’m wondering if disease might not be part of the puzzle. Certainly, it’s probably not the key reason, but I’m starting to suspect it may be a contributing factor."

Rollins said coccidiosis (malady caused by parasitic protozoans of the digestive system) is often blamed, but exactly what disease might be behind the drop in quail populations, or even if there is a disease contributing to the problem, is currently unknown. He said there are other potential threats, including West Nile Virus, avian influenza, avian cholera and avian tuberculosis that may be factors.

Sick quail don’t last long before something eats them, so disease surveillance in wild quail is a tough proposition, according to Rollins.

"I’ve always been intrigued by the possible role disease plays in quail dynamics," Rollins said. "When you think about it, the birds offer a perfect biological fuse for disease spread among the population. They are social birds, and when a covey dwindles to less than about six birds, they go join another covey."

Rollins is investigating further and has asked Texas quail hunters for assistance. If you kill a quail in the Lonestar State that you suspect is sick, refrigerate it in a plastic bag and give Rollins a call at 325-653-4576 or 325-776-2615. Disease symptoms include a green discharge from the vent, white or yellow nodules on the liver or a bird that's too light for its size.

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