Missouri – Drier Spring Helps Nesting Conditions

Forecast: As with most regions in the Midwest, the winter of 2011-2012 brought unseasonably warm temperatures and lower than normal precipitation to Missouri, notes Beth Emmerich, agricultural wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. All regions of Missouri had very low amounts of snowfall during the winter of 2011-2012, with totals ranging from 0.5 inch in the Ozark region to 10.3 inches in the Northeast region. This mild winter weather and below normal snowfall resulted in higher overwinter survival for bobwhite.

The mild winter gave way to an early spring, with March 2012 becoming the warmest on record for the state. As summer progressed, Missouri was plagued by a drought; however, effects of the drought seem to have not had a negative impact on quail numbers throughout.

"The winter of 2011-2012 was a non-event compared to what m=Missouri usually experiences," reports Max Alleger, a wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, "Unseasonably warm temperatures and scare snowfall likely improved quail survival...Plant emergence and development, covey breakup, and nesting all ran about three weeks ahead of normal by most account."

That head start allowed quail to raise more chicks earlier. They also got a break in the form of dry weather. The period from March through August was the fourth-driest on record, exceeded only by the Dust Bowl years of 1934 and 1936 and by the drought year of 1988. MDC field staff throughout the state began reporting encouraging signs early in the summer, noting that the drought actually improved quail brood-rearing habitat. The lack of rain prevented the development of dense, matted grass that makes it hard for quail chicks to move around at ground level.

Although row crops suffered terribly from lack of rain, MDC biologists think the effect on quail was minimal.

"Food Plots are in poor condition, but cattered, late summer rains produced a flush of ragweed, foxtail, and other native annuals, which will provide food resources into winter. And although conservation area managers were unable to conduct prescribed burns this summer, dry conditions allowed them to apply other management practices in areas that have been too wet during recent years.”

Total quail roadside counts were up in half of the zoogeographic regions, down in the others. Counts were highest in the Western Ozark Border and Ozark Plateau (2.0 quail per 30-mile route), followed by the Mississippi Lowlands (1.6 quail per route). Counts were lowest in the Northwest Prairie (0.3 quail per route), the Western Prairie and the Northern and Eastern Ozark Border (0.6 quail per route).

MDC field staff also reported seeing sizeable quail broods early in the season, indicating that initial nesting attempts had succeeded. Later nests may have been more impacted by hot, dry conditions.

These encouraging anecdotal reports were verified by results from surveys MDC conducts each year to gauge quail nesting success. MDC collects information about trends in quail populations and habitat each year. Emmerich says the birds began nesting activity earlier than usual this year, giving them a running start. Surveys showed the highest number of quail in the western Ozark border and Ozark Plateau regions. The Mississippi Lowlands, which experienced the worst drought in Missouri last summer, had the next-highest quail counts. Northwestern Missouri had the lowest counts.

Overall, Emmerich anticipates numbers to be a bit better than last year, due to the drier spring improving nesting conditions, which are critical to quail.

Season Dates: November 1, 2012 through January 15, 2013. October 27 & 28, 2012 represents the youth-only quail season
Daily Bag Limit: 8
Possession Limit: N/A
Field Notes: The Missouri Department of Conservation manages 19 public areas throughout the state as Quail Emphasis Areas. Missouri leads the nation with 23 Quail Forever chapters. Southeastern Missouri's Scott County was the first county in the nation to meet the quail habitat and population goals of the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI).

Helpful Links:
Back to the State by State Forecast
Content Merchandise Ad