Postseason Quail & Habitat Conditions Report

f510f9c6-b100-4efd-8971-11483526be06 Note: additional state reports will be added as information becomes available.


Despite continued drought conditions, the winter precipitation caused by the El NiƱo weather patterns in the Pacific was a real shot in the arm to spur Gambel’s quail breeding activity, reports John O'Dell, small game biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. O’Dell says early indicators are pointing to a better quail season than last year.


Late winter and early spring brought substantial rainfall to Georgia, which Reggie Thackston, program manager with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, viewed as a positive. With the weather of little concern, Thackston is focused on upland habitat improvements. The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division recently released its Bobwhite Quail Initiative Implementation Plan 2013 – 2023. “This plan was developed under the parameters set forth in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative and targets bobwhite management into 22 focal landscapes that vary in size from 30,000 to 300,000 acres. Seven of these 22 landscapes have been chosen as top priority, five of which have public land core habitats, and restoration efforts have begun,” Thackston says.


Southern Illinois was hit particularly hard by heavy March snowfall and significant ice accumulation, a mix which is never good for bobwhite quail, according to Stan McTaggart, agriculture and grassland wildlife program manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 


Indiana bobwhites were hit hard with the severe winter of 2013-2014, and didn’t receive the break they needed this past winter. According to Budd Veverka, farmland game research biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, a mild-looking winter turned bitter in February and March. February was the fourth coldest on record, which was accompanied by 8” of snow. This hit quail hard when they were vulnerable at the end of winter. Though not as bad as the previous winter, Veverka says it won’t do a rebound any favors. In the fight to improve habitat, Veverka reports 1,045 acres of early successional habitat work on 13 Fish & Wildlife Area properties.


According to last year’s roadside counts, quail numbers were the highest in Iowa in eight years. And given a winter with normal to below-normal snowfall, Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, expects a strong number of birds survived through winter. “There are prospects for another good year of reproduction if spring weather cooperates,” Bogenschutz says. Focused on implementing the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a nationwide quail plan, Bogenschutz says the Department of Natural Resources has put a new emphasis on quail habitat management for both public and private lands; this includes the relatively new Iowa Habitat and Access Program. There are also still Conservation Practice 33, or “bobwhite buffers” acres (a continuous CRP practice) available to landowners interested in establishing quail habitat along field borders.


In some regards, the winter in Kansas may have been almost too mild. “The western half of the state did not receive adequate snowfall to recharge soil moisture for producing adequate production cover,” says Jeffrey Prendergast, small game biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, “Recent spring rains have improved conditions in many areas, but additional rainfall will be required in much of the western portion of the state to produce adequate production cover.” Prendergast reports the Kansas Quail initiative is in its third year. Within the two focal areas, 4,878 acres of habitat management on public land and 1,963 acres of habitat on private lands have undergone management for wildlife habitat improvement. 


A mild winter was interrupted by a brutal February filled with extreme cold and heavy snowfall, including one event that produced snowfall totaling 20”, very uncharacteristic for the state. Ben Robinson, wildlife biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, says more than 50 percent of the radio-marked birds on the Peabody Wildlife Area perished, a combination of the late snow and cold coupled with predation. Despite this rough stretch, optimism in the conservation community is expanding thanks to the recent five-year benchmark report on the state’s ongoing quail restoration initiative. The results showed every single focus area had an increasing trend over the last five years - some exceeding what biologists thought possible - thanks to habitat development.


Though it was a relatively cold winter in Mississippi, Rick Hamrick, small game biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, says the carry-over of birds from winter to spring should be fair to good in areas of suitable bobwhite quail habitat. Noting last year provided the right conditions for quail production, Hamrick says if the mild, moist conditions persist, it should be another good year for nesting and brood-rearing. The state can add to its overall habitat base with more landowners participating in the Mississippi Bobwhite Quail SAFE program, a continuous CRP practice with nearly 4,800 acres still available to landowners for enrollment.


Beth Emmerich, resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, describes a tale of two winters. The first few months were warmer than normal with minimal precipitation; February brought 6” of snow across most of the state, with 15”-20” reported in parts of the state. Despite the harsh end, Emmerich doesn’t think it had much of an impact on overwinter survival. “The previous winter was worse, and we had a pretty big bump in bird numbers last year,” she said, “Here’s hoping for another good summer for nesting!” In addition to the recent change allowing pivot corners to be enrolled in the Upland Bird Habitat Buffers program (part of the Conservation Reserve Program), Emmerich says the new Regional Grassland Bird Grazing Land Enhancement Initiative - a new program focused on working grazing lands - will help producers as well as grassland bird habitat.


While winter brought the usual snowstorms and cold snaps, it was interspersed this year with unusually warm periods and melting. Because of the mild spells, winter was probably not overly problematic for Nebraska bobwhites, says Dr. Jeffrey Lusk, upland game program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. On the habitat front, last year the state initiated a Quail Focus Area in southcentral Nebraska following the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. “This 10-year commitment to bobwhite management will allow us to affect bobwhite habitat at a landscape level, and demonstrate quail-friendly management activities and their benefits to Nebraskan landowners,” Lusk says. Landowners interested in doing more for quail are also encouraged to consider Conservation Practice 33. Known as “bobwhite buffers,” the continuous CRP practice establishes upland habitat along field borders or pivot corners.


The winter of 2014-2015 was quite cold and snowy in Ohio, reports Mark Wiley, wildlife biologist with the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife. It was the kind of winter where, Wiley says, bobwhite survival plummets due to periods of prolonged snow cover. While Ohio bobwhites recover from the tough weather, conservationists are making some headway on the habitat battle. The state recently developed the Fallsville Quail Heritage Area, its first quail focus area. Located in Highland County, the state and Quail Forever will be working with landowners to improve habitat for bobwhites in a 10,000-acre area. 


Optimism has been a rare thing in the quail world, but it’s real in Oklahoma right now. The past two summers were very favorable for quail reproduction – backed by quail surveys – and there were no significant weather events during the winter of 2014-2015 that would be deemed detrimental to quail. “All reports that we are receiving show decent sized coveys and better numbers at this time, compared to last year,” says Scott Cox, upland game biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Cox estimates hunter numbers were up by nearly 20,000 last year, and the quail harvest jumped from just 116,000 birds in 2013 to more than 435,000 in 2014. Hunter surveys from the season indicated larger coveys, healthier birds and different age classes. Cox adds native grasses were not as short from overgrazing - thanks to rainfall the past couple of years - which helped quail nesting efforts. To continue the upward trend, Cox says his department is looking closely at efforts in western Oklahoma and the panhandle region to work with private landowners, and also to improve state Wildlife Management Areas. 


The winter of 2014-2015 was among the warmest on record, with snowpack less than 10 percent of average in much of the state at the end of March 2015. Winter conditions did not adversely impact quail survival this past winter, according to Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. While good news on the surface, Budeau cautions that a lack of snowpack could mean drought conditions this summer.


Roger Applegate, wildlife population biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, reports his state experienced a two-week period this winter with snow, ice and cold that was potentially lethal to bobwhites. While the weather didn’t do the birds any favors, efforts to improve upland habitat stand to benefit quail the most. To that end, the state and Quail Forever are focused on implementing the state’s Northern Bobwhite Quail Restoration Plan and improving habitat in the four new quail focus areas it designated.


The biggest difference this past winter as compared to the previous few has been moisture, reports Robert Perez, quail program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Lots of moisture across the range, lots of winter greens, and harvested birds were in good body condition,” Perez says, “It’s been a long time since we have had an early/green spring and habitat conditions look fantastic heading into the breeding season.” Perez expects quail will have a great opportunity to nest, but re-nesting efforts will depend on how soon things get hot and dry. “Overall, things are looking up!” Perez adds field reports indicate significant quail population gains have been made in south Texas, with modest gains in the panhandle/Rolling Plains regions.


Jason Robinson, upland game program coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, reports Utah experienced an extremely mild winter with low snowfall, which he sees as a benefit for quail, especially California quail. Robinson says the state’s walk-in access program continues to grow, and the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative is spearheading many projects, including projects on state Wildlife Management Areas, both of which are good news for quail.


With a quail population that rebounded in 2014 and a subsequent mild winter and early spring, things are boding well for 2015 quail reproduction, reports Brian Calkins, small game section manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Calkins notes that wildfires last year, including the largest blaze in state history, did affect quail habitat in some of the most productive and popular quail areas in Chelan and Okanogan counties, which will have short-term impacts on bird numbers.  

Photo courtesy USFWS