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, “Yah – that is a good question.” These dang bobwhite quail are just a hardheaded 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?
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 management techniques aren’t the hard part, it’s keeping the quail alive to benefit from them that is the challenge.
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 management method on ranches in Texas. Since 2010, Dr. Dabbert and his students have been investigating the feasibility of broadcasting supplemental feed (milo/sorghum) into pastures 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/year out, depending on weather conditions. During extended periods of drought, 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. Interestingly, during one heavy snow event this past winter, bobwhites that were in feed areas suffered less than 10% mortality while those quail in non-feed areas neared a mortality rate of 50%. 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. For more information concerning this ongoing research, follow the link to the Texas Tech quail research website http://www.quail-tech.org.