Field Report: Quail Nesting Habitat Conditions

July 2011 Nesting Report July 26, 2011

Quail nesting occurs from May to September. The following describes recent quail nesting conditions, and was compiled from field reports from Quail Forever and state natural resource agency wildlife biologists.


A lack of rain has caused serious problems for nesting quail in the Heart of Dixie. "The main concern in Alabama currently is the severe drought that most of the state has been in," says Claude Jenkins with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, "Because of lack of rain, nesting habitat has been poor due to the lack of cover available in quail areas. If the rains arrive, we will see favorable nesting conditions in July, August, and even into September," adds Jenkins.


For quail in Arizona, the most important thing to remember is "rain." The three main species of the five found in Arizona all have different requirements of precipitation for successful breeding and hatching. Gambel's quail rely on winter rain, scaled (or blue) quail require spring rains, and Mearns' quail need summer rains. Gambel's quail are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, so there is no shortage of quality habitat for them. However, winter precipitation has been in short supply for an extended number of years, and thus lower than average food crops to produce large broods. They do respond well to localized rains, so pockets of average to above average habitats do exist. 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. Mearns' quail are well-suited to the seasonal summer monsoon pattern in southwestern Arizona. Changes by the U.S. Forest Service 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.


Arkansas has experienced huge amounts of rain with flooding this spring, so the nesting will be delayed and most likely poor in the eastern part of the state, according to Steven Fowler, Quail Program Coordinator with the Arkansas game and Fish Commission. Some late nesting may be made possible, aided by the popularity of the Conservation Reserve Program “Bobwhite Buffers” and SAFE practices, which have created more than 10,000 acres of suitable quail habitat. The upland portions of the state should have better nesting conditions due to the quicker draining of rainwater. As summer progresses, there should be sufficient growth in the upland areas that were not flooded. While this will make birds harder to observe, it should make for good nesting conditions.


"Overall nesting conditions are favorable statewide for California, Mountain, and Gambel's quail," says Jesus Garcia, Environmental Scientist for the California Department of Fish and Game, "California is experiencing another wet year, and in some cases, record breaking. All hydrologic regions and river basins are reporting over 100 percent of water-year averages except for the Colorado River desert areas which currently reports near normal (78 percent). Most of this precipitation occurred from October through April." Although California does not conduct brood counts until July, nesting production is anticipated to be normal.


Currently, the nesting conditions in southeastern Colorado are poor due to the extreme drought the area is experiencing, according to Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Department of Wildlife. The general Conservation Reserve Program signup last year resulted in thousands of acres receiving enhancement through tillage, followed by forb interseeding. This enhancement was intended to improve nesting and brood rearing habitat for upland birds, including quail. Unfortunately, the current drought has slowed the amount of growth on the enhanced acres, which has resulted in limited insect availability. In the northern part of the state, conditions are good to excellent.


In areas with reasonable quail densities, Florida's abundance of quail in the 2010-11 season was slightly above average, but less than the 2009-10 season. There was a good winter carryover of birds from the fall, which has positioned Florida well for this spring and summer nesting season. However, current drought conditions will likely impact habitat management activities such as prescribed burning. In the southern Florida, this management action is the key to quality quail habitat, including good summer brood conditions. "Currently, most of the state is experiencing a significant drought, with the Red Hills region 8-10” below normal. Hopefully, hurricane season will minimize its effect on bird production during the 2011-12 season. Only time will tell as we move further into summer production periods," says Chuck Mckelvy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.


Currently, southern Georgia is in the midst of extreme drought, which, if it continues, will adversely impact bobwhite nesting and reproduction. "Georgia's Upper Coastal Plan is the primary region with significant bobwhite habitat and populations. On private farms and forestlands across this region, there are about 2,000 acres of CRP field buffers (CP 33) and 200,00 acres of CRP longleaf pine, in addition to lands enrolled in Georgia's Bobwhite Quail Initiatives, along with substantial acreage of other farm and forest lands that are being intentionally managed for bobwhites," says Reggie Thackston, Program Manager of the Private Lands Program at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, "On these lands where rotational prescribed fire and/or winter disking has been applied, nesting and brood rearing conditions should be good given an adequate abundance and distribution of rainfall through the summer months."


The early part of the nesting season brought cold and rain, not ideal for the early nesting birds in May, reported Michael Wefer, Agriculture & Grasslands Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Winter wheat acreage is up in Illinois this year, and while most of it is in the southern portion of the state, some acres are in the north and could provide extra nesting ground for quail.


"It has been very wet across the entire state so far this nesting season," says Bob Caveny, Quail Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist in Indiana, "While temperatures have been cool, things are warming up nicely for the beginning of the hatch." The cool, wet spring may be hard on quail populations coming through a rough winter. The southern part of Indiana, including the predominant quail strongholds, has been very wet and cold during the initial part of the nesting season. Combined with record rainfall in the Ohio valley, much of the area has been inundated with poor conditions for an extended period.


Following the devastating 2009-10 winter, roadside counts for quail were down 70 percent in Iowa. Comparatively, the 2010-2011 was better, but snowfall was still 40-60 percent above normal, something that likely did not lead to an exceptional winter carryover. "This past winter did break earlier, with most of southern Iowa (the state's primary quail range) snow free by mid-February," says Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Research Biologist with Iowa Department of Natural Resources, "Iowa has kept steady with the past two CRP signups, thus good habitat is available and landowner interest in quail remains high. With normal weather during the nesting season, we are optimistic quail numbers can bounce back a little from fall 2010 levels."


The majority of regions have felt below average temperatures and rainfall this spring, which has not allowed for much in the way of new growth of grasses or forbs, according to Quail Forever’s team of Kansas Farm Bill Wildlife Biologists. A few timely spring rainfalls across the state will likely help localized quail initiatives and lead to a successful nesting season. Throughout the landscape there are still plenty of areas providing decent nesting cover. These areas, coupled with fresh forb growth and wildflower enhanced CRP fields, are providing the necessary conditions for young broods to survive the summer months.


Although Kentucky experienced a very cold 2010-2011 winter with several inches of snowfall, the early indications show that carry-over for quail has been good. Heavy rains have continued through the spring, but Kentucky looks poised for an excellent breeding season, says Ben Robinson, Wildlife Biologist for Kentucky's Department of Fish & Wildlife. Hunters will keep their eyes on production in the CREP areas of Hart, Barren, Metcalfe, and Green in southcentral Kentucky, as well as the Peabody Wildlife Management Area and West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area.


Being so far south, prime nesting season for bobwhites in Louisiana is July-August, so peak nesting has not been reached. Fred Kimmel of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries reports that "Louisiana has experienced significant loss of good bobwhite nesting and brood rearing habitat. Lack of prescribed burning, intensive forestry practices, and lack of suitable habitat in agricultural regions are factors that have contributed to this loss. There are areas of good habitat in the east-central region where Wetlands Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Program practices are favorable, some in south central Louisiana associated with sugarcane agriculture, and scattered open pine tracts where habitat is favorable. At this point, our primary concern is the weather - production is best when temperatures are below normal and rainfall is above normal during the nesting season. Most of the state is in severe to extreme drought and temperatures of late are reaching record highs. Therefore, I am not expecting a good production year for bobwhites."


The watch phrase for Missouri this year in quail nesting is "cautiously optimistic," according to Elsa Gallagher, Quail Forever's Regional Wildlife Biologist in Missouri. "The northern part of the state, Missouri’s primary quail range, looks better than last year. Last April, we had 4.5 inches of rain in April compared to 4.8 inches this year. However, last May there was 7 inches of rain, while this May it is 4 inches. All this combined leads to better nesting conditions, thus better brood conditions." If everything stays on par in Missouri, the state is positioned to have an above average nesting season.


During the winter of 2009, the bobwhite population was at a nearly 20 year high, but entering the 2011 breeding season quail numbers were at a 20 year low statewide due to the severe winter weather since then, says Dr. Jeffrey Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager for Nebraska. Unfortunately for the birds, there were localized severe spring weather events, including a severe hail storm within the core bobwhite region in Nebraska. "If we could catch a break with winter and spring weather, I think that there is sufficient habitat to support a good year or two of production, which would turn the population lows around," says Dr. Lusk.


According to Shawn Espinosa, Upland Game Staff Specialist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada experienced an exceptionally wet fall and winter during 2010 and early 2011. The fall conditions dispersed birds away from the water sources and made hunting more difficult. Winter conditions were wet, but relatively mild in terms of temperature and snowpack at lower elevations, leading to an above average overwinter survival. Base populations of quail should be up from the previous 5-year period, and production should be above average. In the central and southern portions of the state, some very windy and dry conditions with cold temperatures could have stymied some important key forb growth and insect production. However, Espinosa thinks once the weather warms and insects respond, quail species in Nevada should experience population increases given their reproductive persistence.

New Mexico

Unfortunately for New Mexico quail hunters, the outlook for 2011 is very bleak, reports Pat Mathis of the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game. The southwest part of the state recorded a period of more than 100 days without rain, and unless the monsoon rains arrive in a timely manner, the quail outlook will be poor for this year.


Ohio had a rough winter where the state suffered high bird mortalities followed by a very wet spring, reports Charlie Payne, Quail Forever's Regional Wildlife Biologist in Ohio. This has led to generally poor habitat conditions. One positive is that winter wheat and other grassland areas haven't been flooded. If the weather improves and it dries up a bit, Ohio still has the potential for a decent nesting season.


Oklahoma's quail hunting prospects for 2011 are not looking too optimistic, reports Doug Schoeling, Upland Game Bird Specialist for Oklahoma's Wildlife Department. While the birds are pairing up well, the weather is already hitting triple digits. The western part of the state, Oklahoma's best quail hunting region, has received very little rain this year. If the birds that have found mates can get a break in the weather, the outlook could improve.


Statewide this spring, Oregon experienced cooler than average weather, with above average precipitation. For the typically dry eastern part of the state, these conditions should result in favorable nesting due to increased grass and forb production thanks to the extra moisture, reported Dave Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Nesting conditions should be good to very good for the relatively late-nesting California quail, which are found statewide, but most abundant in eastern Oregon. For the western one third of the state, precipitation is not a limiting factor and spring precipitation often results in depressed reproductions. If weather moderates soon, expect only average production for California and Mountain quail. Southwest Oregon accounts for about 75 percent of the statewide harvest of Mountain quail."

South Carolina

Conditions for South Carolina are dry to very dry across much of the state, with some exceptions in the lower coastal plain. Most areas are in need of some rainfall in order to improve nesting and brood rearing conditions as we approach the peak of nesting, says Bill Dukes, Small Game Project Supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Habitat availability and quality are the keys to insuring good nest success and brood survival. Expect most areas to be average or slightly below average in terms of production, depending on rainfall in the next 60 days. One or two timely rains could improve the outlook for the 2011-2012 hunting season.


The overall prospect for quail nesting in Tennessee is low. "The nesting conditions in Tennessee, in the limited locations that have good habitat, are tenuous at best," states Roger D. Applegate, Small Game Coordinator for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, "Much of the state has had, and continues to have, a lot of rain. Many lowland areas, which often contain some of the better nesting habitat, have been flooded two or more times this spring so vegetation quality is low. Continued rains during the nesting period threaten the ability of quail to have successful nests. In upland areas that are not subject to flooding, the high moisture levels are leading to vegetation that is too dense for quail to successfully use." Compounding the damp conditions, many of Tennessee's CRP fields, which are largely in western Tennessee, are too dense to provide proper nesting habitat. Likewise, the “Bobwhite Buffers” (Conservation Practice 33) planted in the state were either planted too dense or have become too dense because of weed invasion, so they are not able to achieve the best nesting cover results.


Unfortunately for Texas quail hunters, the primary hunting regions in Texas are the Rolling Plains and South Texas, and these areas remain drought stricken, according to Robert Perez with the Texas Park and Wildlife Department. There are a few south Texas coastal counties, however, that have the benefit of frequent morning dew/ moisture that tends to help the quail, and the residual cover, CRP and stunted crops will likely keep adult birds going. But without soil moisture and insects, Texas will likely have less than average production. "It's still too early to tell how production will go. Unlike turkey and pheasant, bobwhite quail in Texas can respond late in the season to rainfall. If tropical storms bring rainfall to Texas, quail will initiate calling activity," says Perez. This activity has been documented as late as September.


Nesting conditions should be better than average this year for Gambel's and California quail, according to Jason D. Robinson, Upland Game Project Leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, "Utah is having one of the wettest springs in history, which should equate to great nesting conditions for quail." In addition to the nesting conditions, Utah has an active translocation program moving nuisance California quail from urban areas to rural natural habitats, which has expanded the range of the California quail in the state.


While Virginia experienced some significant snowfall this winter, it was not nearly as severe as 2009-2010, which is good news for quail. On top of that, recent "tropical" weather patterns have brought rainfall totals back to normal, so ground water conditions are improved. The rainfall was a blessing for the quail, because quail chicks depend on forbs not only for cover, but to supply insects for their significant protein demands in the first few weeks of life. Marc Puckett, the Small Game Project Leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says, "If current weather patterns hold, nesting and brood rearing conditions should be good during the early nesting and hatching season. Virginia's quail population is showing some signs of recovery in the southeastern portion of the state, and populations continue to be strongest in the tidewater region, including the Eastern Shore.”


Overall, Washington's nesting conditions should be above average. Washington had a very wet April and May, which led to good growing conditions for the fob plants that the quail chicks depend on for shelter and insect sustenance. CRP is remaining at status quo; however, there are CRP SAFE acres going in central Washington. These areas are predominately for sage grouse, but will benefit all upland species including quail and pheasant.

By Rehan Nana
Public Relations Specialist
Quail Forever & Pheasants Forever