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Dry Times: Worst Drought in Decades Continues to Cut Texas Quail Counts

The news is not good, as quail hunting season has just begun in Texas.

Written by Norman Martin

Starting in 2009, Quail-Tech Alliance and Texas Tech designated a 38-county research area in west central and northwest Texas.

Three years into a five-year project aimed at stemming a massive decline of quail in Texas, researchers with a conservation alliance based at Texas Tech University are finding that last year’s blistering drought didn’t help that rescue effort one bit.

“Even though we’ve seen improvement in this year’s reproductive efforts, it’s important to look at reality,” said Brad Dabbert, Quail-Tech Alliance research project director and associate professor in Texas Tech’s Department of Natural Resources Management. “We’re coming off one of the worst droughts on record and we’re seeing a corresponding reproductive failure. While environmental conditions improved during winter and spring, we can’t expect populations to rebound in a single year.”

Starting in 2009, Quail-Tech Alliance and Texas Tech designated a 38-county research area in west central and northwest Texas, an area that encompasses more than 22 million acres or roughly 10 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Within each of the counties, one ranch is designated as an anchor ranch to serve as a field research or demonstration site.

Among the historic ranches on the list attempting to save the small bird, known as a northern bobwhite quail, are the 6666 Ranch, Guthrie’s Pitchfork Ranch, Vernon’s W. T. Waggoner Ranch, Collingsworth County’s Mill Iron Ranch and Archer County’s Circle A Ranch.

While the Lone Star state’s historic drought inhibited reproduction over most of the Rolling Plains last summer – exasperating bird deaths over the winter – researchers are encouraged to see many birds in reproductive condition this nesting season.

“It’s amazing what a little timely rain can do,” Dabbert said. “We’ve had reports of broods in many areas of the Rolling Plains.”

Meanwhile, this fall the team is taking a closer look at another factor affecting quail longevity – predators. They’re initiated an ongoing program to monitor predator activity using cameras on the anchor ranches in the Quail-Tech Alliance program. The initial results are still being examined, but among the animals caught on camera are skunks, coyotes, raccoons, and, amazingly, a bobcat.

Separately, the research team is rapidly closing its most recent construction phase, which includes a Lubbock research facility with indoor work areas and outdoor pens. So far, the team has been focusing on the production of wild-strain, parent-reared chicks.

“Chick releases on anchor ranches began in August and ended in October,” Dabbert said.

The team initiated an ongoing program to monitor predator activity using cameras on the anchor ranches in the Quail-Tech Alliance program..

Some of the released chicks are fitted with radio transmitters to monitor their survival and movements during the fall and winter. The goal is to place birds on the ground where habitat has been modified to be suitable for quail, but where drought or isolation has prevented timely colonization by wild populations.

The Quail-Tech Alliance, a partnership between Tech’s natural resources management department and Quail First, a Dallas-based non-profit organization, is conducting research and demonstration projects on an array of topics, including:

  • Investigating the potential benefits or detriments of supplemental feeding.
  • Understanding the factors that influence over-winter survival of adults and summer-to-fall survival of the brood.
  • Refining the way prescribed burning, brush modification and livestock grazing are used as tools of habitat management.

 





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4 Responses to “Dry Times: Worst Drought in Decades Continues to Cut Texas Quail Counts”

  1. Dr. S. Brancheau Says:

    Great work!

  2. Matthew McEwen Says:

    The drought no doubt plays a factor, but I look forward to the work towards refined habitat management. Keep up the good work.

  3. RANDAL HOWARD Says:

    Fantastic news! Perhaps some day my Grandchildren can spend a winter’s day with friends/family quail hunting among abundant populations of bob whites like I did 50 years ago when I was a teenager.
    Thank you for your efforts and the very best of luck to you in the future.

  4. Douglas Smith Says:

    My Grandfather, A. W. Lankford, owned a farm on the border of Wheeler and Collingsworth county for many years. I used to hunt quail on it and I have never seen a population of Quail on any other property as good as it was on his farm. Rock Island railroad ran on one side of it and the county road between Wheeler and Collingsworth on the other side. Seeing the picture of the Bobwhite Quail in this article brought fond memories of those times when we used to hunt with him. After he passed away the farm was sold and I moved to the Gulf coast in 1975 where there are not many quail because of the fire ants, I am told. Would like to go quail hunting again some day but have reached the ripe age of 70 so time is running out quick on that option. Anyway enjoyed your article and keep up the restoration efforts. It would be a shame for this activity to die out. Enjoyed the memories your article brought back.

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The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is made up of six departments

The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is made up of six departments:

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  • Plant and Soil Science
  • Natural Resources Management

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