By David Gutierrez
Poor breeding conditions and late rains foretell reduced bird numbers for the 21-22 New Mexico season.
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
“It was a relatively mild winter in New Mexico, so overwinter survival was quite good,” says Casey Cardinal, the game bird biologist for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “Unfortunately, there was also very little winter moisture, so birds coming out of winter into the breeding season seemed to be delaying breeding.”
Conditions were extremely dry from the winter going into spring and the beginning of the summer. Nesting and brood rearing were not very successful, especially at the beginning of the breeding season. Gambel’s quail were still in large coveys going into the late spring, indicating that they were delaying or not breeding.
Monsoon rains were better this year compared to the last few, so Montezuma quail breeding efforts may have improved. Unfortunately, much of the summer rain came in a very short time period, likely destroying any nests and young broods that may have been on the landscape. Habitat and weather conditions were better in the late summer, so there may have been some late season breeding attempts.
HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS
Habitat conditions look good going into fall. Much of quail range received monsoonal rains, leading to good fall habitat conditions. There is still a lot of green vegetation and a fair amount of water on the landscape.
“Bird numbers will likely be lower this year, due to poor breeding conditions much of the season,” says Cardinal. “There are still some birds on the landscape, but there have been much fewer reports of coveys/young this year, compared to previous years.”
New Mexico has a relatively new call count survey (only 2 years of data), and counts were down 50 percent this year compared to last. The fall roadside survey is still in progress, so results are not available. Current indications are that numbers are lower this year compared to last, both in numbers of coveys and covey size.
Hunting could be a challenge in general this year. The southeast portion of the state may have gotten some late season production, so Chaves, Eddy, and Lea county could be worth checking for scaled quail.
Overwinter survival of Gambels’ quail seems decent in the southwest portion of the state. Hidalgo, Grant, and Luna counties may still have a fair number of birds.
With decent monsoons, Montezuma quail numbers may be a little better this year compared to previous. National Forests in the southwest portion of the state could provide some Montezuma quail opportunities.
“Coveys near the road get hit pretty hard and become very skittish early in the season,” says Cardinal. “Don’t be afraid to get off the road to look for birds. Drainages are a great place to start your search, as they have green vegetation and insects that quail readily utilize.”