Quail Forever’s 2016 Nesting & Habitat Conditions Report

f953e806-ba61-4c01-b343-60ac2f25e489 Each year, increases in fall quail populations depend on winter and spring weather conditions and the availability of quality habitat. With winter behind us, attention turns to field reports of quail nesting and spring habitat conditions for updated predictions on this year’s quail hunting season.
Similar to the winter quail and habitat conditions report, spring weather and available habitat have fluctuated across the United States. Overall, the outlook is good and quail numbers, collectively, continue to rebound, especially in areas with quality winter habitat and undisturbed nesting habitat. Read on for what each state’s upland experts have observed and how they intend to continue their missions toward bolstering quail numbers nationwide.


The lackluster El Niño weather patterns continue to provide less than optimal breeding conditions for both Gambel’s and scaled quail, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department small game biologist Johnathan O'Dell. Thankfully, summer monsoons have arrived on time with a good amount of rain so far. This will lead to a good green up in the desert and fill the water sources for quail and other wildlife. This year’s spring call counts for Gambel’s quail are in line with the most recent 10-year average, and O’Dell anticipates a coming season with similar Gambel’s numbers as 2015. Ditto for scaled quail. A brighter spot should be Mearns’ quail, with numbers that should be slightly improved over last year.


Winter brought mild temperatures to California. Most areas saw a shift between 1 to 4 degrees above normal. Rainfall was normal or slightly above normal in the northern half of California but remained below normal in southern California where “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions persist.
According to environmental scientist Matt Meshriy with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, ongoing severe drought conditions in California have decreased the amount of residual nesting cover available to birds. Additionally, the patchiness of available overwinter habitat could be associated with high overwinter predation rates. Overall, California habitat conditions are classified as “fair.”


Populations of bobwhites and scaled quail in Colorado appear to be increasing slightly, according to small game manager Ed Gorman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Spring weather conditions have been good to excellent depending on the area. “Overall, 2015 was a very good year for quail over much of Colorado,” Gorman said. He remains optimistic, should summer avoid extreme drought conditions, that this season could see similar results. 


Thanks to moderate winter weather across the state, overwinter survival was on par with last year’s numbers, according to Northern Bobwhite coordinator Greg Hagan with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Due to an unseasonably warm winter and adequate spring weather patterns (except for areas that experienced tropical systems), nesting and brood habitat is in good condition, Hagan said. Birds are well-positioned entering the nesting season, and if favorable weather continues, populations should be good across areas with quality habitat.


As Georgia concludes bobwhite whistle counts, the state enters nesting season with a sense of optimism, particularly in areas where habitat has been managed and maintained to provide optimum useable space for bobwhites. However, in areas that habitat was not maintained, slight decreases were observed when compared to last year’s results.
“Observational reports from areas throughout the state are generally positive,” stated quail coordinator Paul Grimes with the Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. “We have had reports of nesting and already reports of early broods seen on areas with well-managed habitat.”
A new cost share project has been established in Georgia in the form of the Bobwhite Quail and Pine Savanna Restoration Pilot Project. Georgia landowners interested in learning more can contact a Bobwhite Quail Initiative biologist today at 478-258-0380.


Winter and spring precipitation was at or above average throughout the state, which should lead to good nesting and brood rearing habitat, according to upland game and migratory bird coordinator Jeffrey Knetter with Idaho Fish and Game. “Anecdotal reports suggest quail successfully nested and have hatched some large broods,” he said.
Idaho has been holding steady at around 680,000 acres enrolled in CRP/SAFE. The state continues to show landowner interest in Eastern Idaho SAFE, which is focused on Columbian Sharp-tailed grouse. “We expect to have nearly 112,000 acres enrolled by this fall,” Knetter said. Idaho continues to promote the CP33 buffers practice as well as a new SAFE program in western Idaho focused on upland game birds. USDA and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are putting a renewed effort into promoting mid-contract management, which should result in better game bird habitat on these acres, according to Knetter.
Aside from quail, Idaho boasts a multitude of other upland game bird hunting opportunities—from three species of forest grouse and two of prairie grouse to some of the best chukar and gray partridge hunting in the west—on millions of acres of public land in Idaho. Season lengths are long and the bag limits are generous.


According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources agriculture and grassland program manager Stan McTaggart, anecdotal reports have indicated good overwinter survival numbers due to the mild winter conditions. During most of the spring, the majority of Illinois was fairly wet with slightly above average temperatures.
Roadside mowing continues to be a problem for nesting quail and other grassland birds and wildlife in Illinois. “Not only are the nests and eggs lost to mowers, the hens are often killed as they try to hunker down to protect their eggs or newly hatched chicks,” McTaggart said. “If non-essential roadside and waterway mowing was stopped from May 1 through August 1, there would be more birds and other wildlife around in the fall.”
During the last General CRP sign-up, 1.8 million acres were offered for CRP and only 411,000 acres were accepted (23 percent). Illinois enrolled only four percent of the acres offered by producers in this sign-up (2,157 acres accepted of 49,330 offered). One option for these unsuccessful applicants is the CP42 Pollinator Habitat practice offered under the Continuous CRP sign-up by the Farm Service Agency.


Iowa quail harvest was the highest it has been since 2007. “Lots of positive reports from hunters last season about improved bird numbers,” said upland wildlife biologist Todd Bogenschutz with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Numerous comments from staff, landowners, and hunters—they are seeing lots of crowing pheasant and bobwhites this spring, especially in southern and eastern Iowa.”
“It looks like we have good potential to see increases in pheasant and quail numbers across the southeast half of Iowa,” Bogenschutz said. “Quail numbers could be the highest in decades for Iowa. All in all, looks like it could be a good year for upland birds in Iowa. Tremendous reports across our quail range on calling males this spring and same for crowing roosters across the southeast half of the state.”
Iowa’s new online hunting atlas continues to be popular with hunters. The state has also expanded their habitat and hunter access program to over 26,000 acres.


Harvest numbers this past season in Kansas increased by nearly 30 percent with average daily bag counts reaching the highest levels they have been in four years, according to small game specialist Jeff Prendergast with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Additionally, the spring crow survey also increased by 30 percent from 2015.
“Overwinter survival is rarely a population limiting factor in Kansas, and we had no winter weather severe enough to be of concern this year,” Prendergast said. “Spring precipitation has been good to this point and vegetation is in very good condition going into the nesting season.”
High temperatures in early spring put wheat ahead and could result in early harvest. However, cool late spring temperatures have slowed progress. Wheat remains a very important nesting cover in Kansas, and early harvest can have negative impacts on production. “Although with height of wheat and quality of additional nesting, cover conditions overall are still good,” Prendergast said.


Kentucky experienced a mild winter and though the state endured a very wet May, this precipitation preceded nesting, according to small game coordinator John Morgan with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. ”We had a strong growing season last summer,” he said, “which should have yielded abundant fall and winter food items, so we expected strong carryover this year.”
Strong vegetative growth from May rains, coupled with current, more moderate rain, is shaping up well for good reproduction this summer.
Kentucky just entered the final phase of a 625-acre prairie restoration on Perryville Battlefield State Park, marking the largest grassland planting in Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife history on a single site. “Hunting will be available in the years ahead,” Morgan said. “Also worthy of noting, in partnership with the Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council, a certified prescribed burn program was established in statute, opening the door for the private sector to become more active in private lands burning in the Commonwealth.” The “fire bird” will hopefully see benefits in the years ahead from that monumental action from Kentucky’s legislature. 


Population trends in Mississippi appear similar to the past several years. Portions of South Mississippi, where suitable habitat could be found, were reporting increased brood sightings last summer compared to previous years, which suggests a good production year for that region in 2015, according to small game biologist Rick Hamrick with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Wild quail harvest continues to be low statewide,” Hamrick said, “but accurate estimates are lacking.”
Overwinter survival was generally similar to previous years where habitat was suitable, according to Hamrick. “Acorn crops were less abundant than in previous years,” he said, “but we also had a relatively mild winter, so energy demands were likely not as high as during colder winters of previous two years.”
As Mississippi approaches peak hatching dates, conditions are much drier and warmer, compared the previous wet, mild spring. If dry conditions persist, some negative impacts on brood rearing habitat conditions may ensue. “However, this is uncertain at this time,” Hamrick said.
“Overall, quail hunting opportunities will continue to be limited,” Hamrick said. “Large-scale habitat deficiencies are primary limitations on quail populations in Mississippi. Productivity and abundance varies annually regardless of habitat quality, but these are largely factors beyond management control. Habitat management continues to be the greatest limiting factor within control of land managers.”


Statewide, Missouri 2015 quail numbers were 54 percent above the 2014 index and 29 percent above the 10-year average, according to small game coordinator David Hoover with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Currently, overall nesting conditions have been good due to frequent rain during nest initiation and early incubation, though drier and warmer weather has prevailed since early June. Missouri Department of Conservation staff members have been receiving reports of broods since the third week of June, which is a good indication that early nesting conditions have generally been good, Hoover said. Based on anecdotal reports, overwinter survival was good in the northern and western portions of the state.
In February 2016, the “Strategic Guidance for Northern Bobwhite Recovery 2015-2025” plan was approved and builds upon the previous 10-year recovery plan.


Nebraska quail harvest numbers were up 72 percent in 2015, compared to 2014. According to Nebraska Game and Parks upland game program manager Dr. Jeffrey Lusk, April Rural Mail Carrier Surveys indicated an abundance similar to 2015, although survey conditions were not ideal and likely underestimated this year’s abundance.
Winter conditions featured some severe weather, but patterns were short-lived and heavy snow cover melted quickly. Spring weather delivered some adverse localized weather, including large hail and heavy rainfall. “Whereas these events might have impacted local populations, it is unlikely to have affected abundance over the larger landscape,” Lusk said.  “Results from the upcoming (mid-summer) whistle count surveys will help determine the extent of the impacts of these events. Rainfall has produced abundant nesting and brood rearing cover.
“Anecdotal reports from staff have been encouraging, especially in light of the adverse weather events,” Lusk said.
Relatively dry summer conditions, particularly during peak hatch, combined with mild temperatures would greatly benefit quail populations and make for another great Nebraska season. Nebraska continues work within its Meridian Quail Initiative Bobwhite focus area, which is part of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s focus area program.


Extreme drought conditions have persisted since 2010 in the southern extent of Nevada and are to blame for the declining trend of both hunters and California quail harvest numbers. However, while the northern portion of the state experienced frigid temperatures into January, weather and snowpack moderated substantially in February, providing birds with ample access to forage.
In southern Nevada, the Laughlin and Searchlight areas received good amounts of precipitation in January, according to upland game staff biologist Shawn Espinosa with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Other areas throughout southern Nevada also received good amounts of precipitation during January, but mixed results were noticed in February. Death Valley National Park in southwestern Nevada was noted for its “superbloom” this year. “This may be a good indication that conditions for Gambel’s quail have improved and we should expect good production from this species this year,” Espinosa said.
Spring moisture was good in many areas throughout northern Nevada and some springs and streams recovered slightly from four years of extreme drought conditions. “The vegetation response was noticeable,” Espinosa said, “however, cheatgrass growth was extreme in many areas and will promote a fire danger throughout the rest of the summer.”
Still, Espinosa expects the 2016-2017 to be one of the best in the last 10 years for most upland game bird species. “Gambel’s quail base populations are so low that it will take several good years strung together to obtain a noticeable recovery,” he said. “Alternatively, California quail hunting in northern Nevada should be excellent this year.”

New Mexico

New Mexico had an exceptional production year in 2015, particularly in the southeast, according to resident game bird biologist Casey Cardinal with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Voluntary harvest reporting indicated numbers were double that of the 2014-2015 season. Average birds-per-hunter was about 30 percent higher in 2015 compared to 2014.
Quail overwinter survival was fairly good, Cardinal said. One extreme winter storm may have caused some mortality; however, field staff were still seeing a lot of quail after the snow melted. 
So far, 2016 has been a dry year for New Mexico, particularly in the western half of the state. “There is still residual vegetation from 2015,” Cardinal said, “so there was available nesting habitat even with below average precipitation. Dry conditions could reduce brood survival if food sources are limited.”
There have been numerous anecdotal reports of quail in great numbers on the eastern side of the state. Additionally, Mearns’ (Montezuma) quail numbers are also up this spring, after a good production year in 2015. “People are already noticing broods across the state,” Cardinal said, “and production is looking about average thus far.”


Ohio had a mild winter, which typically benefits both pheasants and quail in Ohio, explained Mark Wiley, wildlife biologist at Olentangy Wildlife Research Station. “Though we are not currently monitoring populations closely enough to estimate survival rates, we presume winter survival for these species was better than average,” he said.
April and May was quite cool throughout the state. “We tied record low temperatures in some parts of the state during mid-May,” Wiley said. “Our hope is that hens came through the mild winter in good condition and they were able to carry their eggs or young though this cold snap.”
Habitat work in Ohio continues at the Fallsville Quail Heritage Area in Highland County, and the first series of roadside whistle counts was completed in the focus area this summer.


This past winter marked two consecutive years of favorable weather for increased overwinter survival, according to Kyle Johnson, quail restoration biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Oklahoma habitat specialists remain optimistic regarding nesting habitat conditions going into summer brood rearing. Cool summertime temperatures, generally less than 100°F, especially during June and July, offer the best conditions for quail nesting. Overall, cooler temperatures with occasional light rains are optimum during the reproductive period. “August brood surveys should help provide a better picture,” Johnson said.


Since 2011, drought conditions across much of Oregon have resulted in below average upland game bird numbers, according to upland game bird coordinator Dave Budeau with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We saw some improvement populations and harvest during the 2015-16 season and expect that trend to continue in 2016-17,” he said.
Oregon received average to above average precipitation and snow pack across most of the state during the winter months, but did not experience any conditions that would have expected to cause significant overwinter mortality. “For most species in most areas, overwinter survival was liking good,” Budeau said. “The increased moisture over winter and warm spring has resulted in generally favorable conditions for plant growth. The increased grass and forb growth should result in more cover and greater insect abundance, both of which should create favorable conditions for successful upland game bird production.”

South Carolina

In October of 2015, South Carolina experienced a “thousand year” flood event, followed by a wet winter, which negatively impacted quail populations, according to small game program leader Michael Hook with the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
“We are far below the long-term average but the state’s quail population seems to have plateaued,” Hook said. “In some areas of the low country where the flood water rose and stayed high for weeks on end, the quail population may have decreased as much as 70 percent. In the piedmont and upstate of South Carolina, the birds probably fared much better due to significantly less standing water and a relatively mild winter.”
Quail that survived winter should be doing fine, according to Hook. “There has been enough rain to keep plants green but hopefully not so much that it would negatively impact nesting and brood rearing,” he said. “Overall, I would say this spring has been better than the last several extremely hot and dry springs.”
The South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative (SCBI) has ramped up work at the four focal areas within the state, and the first rounds of monitoring have just been implemented. These focal areas include keystone properties where the SCBI partners will be conducting intensive management to establish early successional habitat and benefit bobwhites and other species. Landowners that fall in the focal area boundaries may be eligible for additional EQIP programs and compensation. For more information, email scbobwhites@dnr.sc.gov or call 803-734-3940.


The two main quail hunting areas in Texas, the Rolling Plains and South Texas, saw a tremendous year for quail hunting last season. “There was a lot of good hunting until last day of season,” said upland game bird program leader Robert Perez with Texas Parks and Wildlife. “Word got out—we had more birds, and more hunters. Number of quail hunters in Texas should continue to go up.”
Spring in Texas brought rain in droves, according to Perez, and did not dry up until the end of June. However, Perez is confident hens that were not successful during initial nesting will have second opportunities. “Bugs are showing up due to moisture,” he said. “There was flooding in certain areas but not in prominent quail habitat. Most of quail habitat remains pretty good.”
“I’m expecting something special next season,” Perez said, “something that happens once every 10 to 15 years. Barring catastrophic events, we are looking forward to a really great season.”


Formal surveys on quail focus areas are still underway in Tennessee, but wildlife population biologist Roger Applegate with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency speculates the state could see a slight increase in populations, especially if they see average, but not extreme rainfall, these next few months. “I would anticipate that overwinter survival was probably good because winter weather was not bad this year,” he said. “So far it has been a bit cool this spring but we are a little bit away from nesting.”


Utah experienced an average winter in regard to precipitation length and duration. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources upland game coordinator Jason Robinson expects there was good overwinter survival for both quail and pheasant. Though there are no spring surveys for quail, during mourning dove surveys, there were reports of people seeing more quail pairs and broods than the last few years, according to Robinson.


Virginia’s overall harvest and population trends have either stabilized or continued downward on a regional and statewide basis, according to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries small game project leader Marc Puckett. “We have seen portions of counties show increases in our focal areas,” he said.
Virginia sees hens nesting as early as May 20. Puckett believes if the state receives normal rainfall during summer, then a good-to-great hatch can be expected. Anecdotally, according to Puckett, when the weather is good for growing corn, it is good for growing quail.
Avid Virginia quail hunters’ surveys showed hunters finding an average of 1.25 coveys per hunt, and it taking an average of 2.7 hours to find a covey. “Both these numbers were improved slightly from last year,” Puckett said. “Bird hunters in Virginia will need to continue to pursue quail, woodcock, and grouse to fulfill their upland bird hunting needs. We had a very good woodcock season this winter. Bird hunters need to combine all forms of upland hunting along with a trip or two to hunting preserves to stay engaged and have fulfilling seasons.”
Virginia continues to pursue an active quail recovery initiative. They will be finalizing a new 10-year quail plan revision this summer.


Hunter participation in Washington has decreased 25 percent over the past five years and the harvest trend follows a similar trend decreasing at a slower rate, according to private land and wildlife conflict supervisor Joey McCanna with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This past year Washington had a mild winter so overwinter survival was good,” he said.
Washington received another Voluntary Public Access grant to add, and/or extend current hunting access contracts for public hunting. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to work with private landowners interested in inter-seeding forbs into existing grass stands or improving habitats by seeding a diverse grass and forb mixture. 
Report by Jack Hennessy. Jack is the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter @WildGameJack or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BraisingtheWild.
Photo Credit: Lon Lauber