Quail Forever (QF's) has provided us with an even more comprehensive, updated version of its state-by-state quail report originally published here. How are quail populations faring in your state? See below, and be sure to look for QF's complete hunting forecast due out next month.
2012 Quail Nesting Habitat Conditions Report
Quail hunters and biologists’ hopes were high for quail nesting conditions coming into the spring of 2012. A combination of increased population carryover from a mild 2011 winter and productive nesting conditions in early spring across the country gave quail managers hope of a more productive year. But as temperatures increased, rains decreased and now most of quail country is locked in drought. This will inevitably lead to a decrease in quality habitat due to lack of forb activity, abnormally high temperature pressures, and with emergency grazing on Wildlife Management Areas and Waterfowl Production Areas in many states, reductions of critical habitat.
Most of the quail biologists are still optimistic that the early 2012 nesting start may have given the birds a few extra weeks to gain a wing up on the summer heat. Should the heat break and rains increase through the rest of the summer, populations could even see late breeding season growth in some places.
Quail are resourceful and will make use of what they can, so the full story remains to be written for this year. Quail Forever's complete quail hunting forecast will be released in September.
Johnson also noted that acreage has been consistent added through Alabama’s Forever Wild Program since its start in 1992.
This year marks a new formal Fall Covey Count Survey on most of state owned land. Find more details on the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website.
Scaled quail look to spring rains in the desert grasslands of southeastern Arizona, where precipitation has been limited due to many years of drought conditions. Efforts are underway to restore these areas after unregulated livestock grazing practices of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s converted native vegetation to non-native invasive ones.
The Mearns’ quail is a neotropical species evolving in the oak savannahs and Madrean forests of the Sky Island region of North America. They are well-suited to the seasonal summer monsoon pattern in southwestern Arizona. Changes by the U.S. Forest Service in 2003 to grazing practices on leased lands have led to substantially better cover and nesting habitat for Mearns’, but El Niño/La Niña patterns in the Pacific Ocean have diminished the quality of monsoons in recent years.
The annual statewide precipitation average across hydrologic regions is at 73 percent of its long term average, with lower levels in the Colorado River hydrologic region and higher levels in the hydrologic regions in the northern part of the state.
In concurrence with Burkholder, Dan Connelly, State Coordinator for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever in California, reports the southern part of the state received very little spring rain, which could adversely affect quail populations for the region. The northern quail range was lucky to receive some late spring rains after a fairly dry March and April. These timely rains provided birds appropriate nesting/brood rearing conditions and should lead to improved numbers.
Brood reports are showing the hatch date a few weeks early than normal, beginning in early to mid-June (Colorado typically sees July as its most productive nesting season.) Additionally, whistle counts were early statewide. Given nesting conditions, Colorado is expecting a below average to average year, with local conditions applying.
Scaled quail, located in Colorado’s southern range, have also been affected by the drought due to the dry spring. They can possibly have another late hatch and have a better opportunity to bounce back a little bit. “The story remains to be written for scaled quail,” says Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Since 2009, Georgia landowners have or will have received over $11 million through the USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program for the planting and/or prescribed burning of over 40 thousand acres of longleaf pine (source Keith Wooster Georgia NRCS). When this occurs in the appropriate landscapes and at the appropriate management intensity, it has the potential to be value added for bobwhites and numerous other wildlife species of concern.
However, it isn’t all good news for Illinois quail hunters as drought conditions exist throughout Illinois’ quail range. “If the drought doesn’t ease up soon, quail nest success will be low and the state will see even lower numbers in the fall,” says Michael Wefer, Ag and Grassland Wildlife Program Manager/Acting Field Operations Section Head for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Additionally, Illinois’ CRP acreage is at 1,030,778 acres, down 2,446 acres from last year as high commodity prices continue to encourage conversion of nesting cover to crop production. Positive acreage has been seen in the addition of approximately 3,050 acres of CRP SAFE – a wildlife-specific CRP practice – established in the state’s quail range. Anecdotal reports are noting positive bird numbers in the southern Illinois range.
The state had an extremely mild winter with less than 3” of total snowfall in January across the primary quail range of southwest Indiana and had few significant rain events this spring that would have negatively impact quail. One concern Veverka noted is that both April and May were down 1.6” of rainfall statewide and down 30 percent in southern Indiana. If the drought continues to worsen as the summer progresses, late season nesting will become even less productive.
As part of the state’s Early Succession Habitat Initiative, state fish and wildlife areas began setting back succession and reclaiming old field habitat on several historically bobwhite-inhabited properties.
Results from the state's August Roadside Surveys will give the best information on quail numbers, which will be posted on the Iowa DNR website the first week of September.
Early nesting conditions in the Sunflower State were favorable to quail throughout much of its quail range; however, drier conditions have dominated summer which could put the quail population at a loss if there is not an increase in precipitation.
Habitat acreage has stayed the same or slightly decreased. Kansas had a “relatively good sign up for general CRP,” Dahlgren said, though it did lose acres. Of the 500,000 acres expiring in Kansas, 375,000 acres were reenrolled.
“We currently have the Bobwhite Quail Initiative that started this year in Kansas,” added Dahlgren, “We have two focus areas in eastern Kansas where we will be focusing quail habitat ‘tools’ and monitoring population response over the next few years. We look forward to seeing positive results and being able to expand the success to other areas of the state.”
At the time of the information received, weather had turned very dry, especially in far-west Kentucky. If Mother Nature provides rains, nesting season will be above average. However, if the dry weather persists, multiple brooding quail may be limited.
Kentucky continues to focus efforts on several public and private lands quail focus areas. Peabody Wildlife Management Area is the top producing public area for quail. *Note: Hunting is limited to quota on portions of the area.
Like most other southeastern states, Louisiana suffers from a lack of suitable habitat that meets year-round quail needs. In 2011, whistle counts were again disappointing and indicated no real improvement from the previous year. The lack of quality brood habitat in proximity with other critical habitat needs is a concern in much of the state. The LDWF is working with private landowners and federal agencies to improve quail habitat where potential still exists. For the last couple of years, the state has seen some success with private landowner prescribe burning initiatives, and the LDWF is currently working with the U.S. Forest Service to create a quail focus area on the Vermon Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest.
On Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area, an area managed for quail, the LDWF did see a slight improvement in the bobwhite whistle count. Fall whistle surveys will determine if there is any significant statewide improvement or decline in quail populations.
“We’re not sure right now how the dry weather is going to affect the birds,” stated Gallagher, “That said, prior to the drought conditions, the nesting should have been good with plenty of critical early insects for broods.”
Lusk went on to report that if the quail were able to get an early start, there should have been a decent nesting success rate and that a good number of the routes of the Department’s summer whistle counts were up from previous years.
Regionally, the state’s acreage loss/gain was varied from 2011. The eastern region of the state lost habitat to crop production, while the western part of the state did not lose as many acres by comparison. Lusk also notes the quail population is shifting to the western part of the state after the 2009 winter. The full forecast for the state will be available later this month.
A positive sign for New Mexico quail hunter is that the state received snowfall over the winter in quail habitats throughout the state. Despite potential isolated mortality events, this moisture will likely be beneficial to quail over the long-term.
The Ohio quail population has seen a decline of nearly 9 percent each year due to loss of habitat. Like many states throughout the country, bigger agricultural fields with less diversity have pushed the quail further into the fringes. Ohio’s traditional stronghold between Dayton and Cincinnati has been under pressure from urban sprawl.
It was just 12 years ago that Oklahoma harvested over 1,000,000 bobwhites, so new acres added in western Oklahoma and the mild early season will hopefully help boost numbers back to historical highs. The state remains in drought conditions though, so hopefully August rains give the Oklahoma bobs a chance to recuperate before hunting season.
Oklahoma State University is working with radio collared quail on two WMAs in the state and reported quail broods on the ground. In addition, weather stations on both of those WMAs are monitoring smaller scale weather conditions and microclimate effects on quail.
In the drier part of the state, the wet spring resulted in excellent habitat conditions which should improve brood survival. The wet spring on the west side of the state will likely negatively impact mountain quail production for the third year in a row. However, mountain quail hatches are also late, so the actual impact of the wet weather won’t be known until brood surveys are conducted in late July and early August.
There was no significant impact on habitat in Oregon as most expiring 2012 CRP acreage was re-enrolled.
Since South Carolina added counties to those eligible for the state’s CRP SAFE practice, acreage has increased from less than 100 acres to more than 1,000 acres. South Carolina’s SAFE practice is essentially a short-term set aside program in which landowners are allowed to convert whole crop fields to native warm season grasses and forbs for the duration of their contract.
Intermittent spring and summer rains, while behind for yearly averages, have been seen throughout the state. Quail do not need as much rain as crops of corn, so there was strong breeding activity in response to the rain events early and a lot of calling activity that began as early as April in some places, continued Perez. Brood reports began in late May.
Due to long term drought conditions, much of the state’s rangelands could not handle the grazing pressure from cattle and other livestock. For this reason, suitable nesting cover is somewhat limited, but quail are noted for making the best of what is available. The TPWD quail forecast will be available mid-September.
Habitat losses are hard to track, but over the past three years the state’s team of private lands wildlife biologists have created or maintained over 11,000 acres of habitat. “We have a couple areas in our priority counties that show promise of becoming “quail quilts” – areas where landowners work together to sew a habitat quilt on the landscape for quail,” continued Puckett.
This report was compiled by Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Public Relations Specialist.