How Far do Quail Travel, Range?

How far do bobwhite quail travel? What is their range? Most quail move less than a half-mile in either direction, although quail have been documented to move several miles. One of the quail’s most noted moves comes as summer turns to fall, when successful broods year’s hatch begin to disperse and form into coveys. This movement is known as the “fall shuffle.”

During the fall shuffle, bobs are looking for long-term food sources and suitable cover. Ideally, these resources are close to one another. This is important for the winter survival of quail, as maintaining a close distance between food and cover, when herbaceous cover is lacking, greatly increases their chances of seeing the next year.

Moving Towards Winter Cover

The habitat required by quail varies throughout the year. Their breeding and chick-rearing habitat does not look the same as their wintering grounds. In the fall, woody cover is a must for environmental protection as well as structural protection from predators. Brushy cover also provides quail coveys with areas that can be used for loafing, just hanging out, during the times when they are not actively feeding.

These areas are called covey headquarters. To qualify, at least from a quail’s perspective, a covey headquarters must provide canopy cover with an open understory. This protects quail from weather and avian predators but allows them to move around. Species that serve as homes for quail consists of lotebush, skunkbush (frangrant sumac) or even shin oak.

Bobwhite Quail

They Can Move Out

Many hunters and land managers know that bobwhite quail can move from their summer range come fall. This larger movement does create opportunities for additional mortality, especially within juveniles. The trick — rather, key — to keeping quail is maintaining good habitat for them.

If quail can not find adequate winter habitat near their summer sites they will go and find it. It may be somewhere else on your property or it could be neighboring lands. Quail are not migratory birds, but they will move to find the good wintering habitat, habitat necessary for survival.

In fact, quail researchers have had to use aircraft to locate the birds fitted with radio transmitters in many cases, with birds ranging 20-30 miles in some instances!

Fall Surveys in Quail Range

Have the quail moved out or have they stayed put? Conducting annual fall covey counts for quail on your property will help determine the answer to that question. They will help you identify areas quail are using and also allow you to estimate quail covey size on your property.

This information will give you the advantage when it comes hunting season. But it’s just as important to know where quail aren’t on a property. If there are areas devoid of quail then this could signal potential areas for restoring quail habitat. A little management can pay big, quick benefits.

If you love Texas, you will LOVE this video!

Quail Population in Texas Up

Counting Quail

Each summer the bobwhite quail population in Texas is surveyed. After recent roadside quail counts, researchers at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch confirmed what they have expected all summer: Quail numbers are booming in the Texas Rolling Plains.

“Once the roadside counts were in, our 2016 estimate is an average of 512 birds for a 20-mile route,” says Dale Rollins, executive director for the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch (RPQRR) near Roby. “That’s about ten times the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) counts for the same area.”

By contrast, Rollins conceded that their routes and counting methodology varies somewhat from Texas Parks & Wildlife census protocols but each method points to the same conclusion: the bobwhite quail has made an astounding comeback since their historically low numbers earlier this decade.

Estimating the Quail Population

In the Rolling Plains ecoregion, TPWD recorded 50.2 birds on their 20 mile census routes. These numbers, according to the department’s annual quail forecast is the highest number of quail recorded since 1971.

Rollins credits the ranch’s adherence to sound quail management practices as a reason for the increase. While abundant rainfall has helped their cause, he says that the increase can’t entirely be credited to more moisture.

“We’re perhaps 30% below the ecoregion mean,” says Rollins. “As of September 30th, we’re sitting at 17.7 inches or rainfall at the ranch. We’ve made the best of what rain we’ve received.”

Early in the year, researchers at the ranch indicated that quail numbers would indeed be higher. According to Lloyd LaCoste, RPQRR ranch manager, helicopter and call counts this past spring showed numbers to be appreciably higher than in the past. Each spring, data is taken using the exact same methodology so that data collection efforts are consistent from year to year.

Other Quail Population Techniques

“We conduct spring call counts at 25 “mile markers” spread across the ranch,” says LaCoste. “We count the number of “bobwhite” whistles that we hear as well as the number of individuals calling.”

LaCoste says that they also count scaled quail calls and their numbers recorded as well. Counts are conducted twice weekly at each mile marker for 5 minutes. “Typically we hear about 10 whistles per cock per stop. This year our number of whistles per cock per stop was higher than normal and we had the highest number of birds that we have recorded calling.

March helicopter surveys for bobwhites showed an increase as well. In 2013, only two coveys were detected. By contrast, in the spring of 2015, 32 coveys were detected from the helicopter counts and by spring of 2016, 199 coveys were recorded.

Long-term Health of Quail Population

Rollins says it’s too early to tell if this numbers will mean a long term rebound for the species. Right now he says that ranchers and quail hunters can enjoy the bounty and try to take the current population momentum into the ensuing years.

“Our next hurdle is a steep one: can we “insulate” (sustain) our current bumper crop?” he says. “History is not on our side. But then, think what the historical paradigm was for ice chests. Used to, the chests would only keep ice for a day, perhaps. Now the are some that can store ice for five days. Can we borrow from such success on the quail front?”

Quail Management & Hunting: Coffee Shop Talk

Bobwhite quail are an interesting bird that many of us grew up hunting in Texas. These upland-dwelling, ground-nesting gamebirds have taken it on the chin, so to speak, in recent years, but some folks around Texas are calling it the best quail year ever. Now, we all have a chance to learn even more about bobwhite quail.

Thew Texas Wildlife Associatin (TWA) and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension are inviting everyone to join them for their next Wildlife for Lunch webinar discussing bobwhite hunting and management. The webinar will take place on Thursday, October 20, 2016, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm CDT and the session is being touted as “Coffee Shop Quail Talk: Myths and Misconceptions.”

Bobwhite Quail in Texas

This presentation will cover common myths and misconceptions related to quail ecology, management and conservation to include: impacts of fire ants, feral hogs, turkey, roadrunners, mesomammals, disease and parasites. It will also discuss ecology facts such as: double brooding, life span, reproductive strategy and potential and also impacts of hunting at multiple scales. The speaker will be Robert Perez, quail biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

There is no cost for the coffee shop quail talk and interested persons can participate anywhere with a computer, smartphone, or tablet as long as they have internet access.

To sign up, simply point your browser right here on the day of the webinar and click to join the Wildlife for Lunch webinar. Each web based seminar is fully interactive and allows you to engage the experts, make comments, and ask questions during the course of the presentation.

Texas Quail Hunting Outlook Great in Rolling Plains, South Texas

Bobwhite quail: You either got ’em or you don’t. It’s that simple. Fortunately, the Rolling Plains and South Texas Plains of Texas have them this year!

Quail hunting in Texas comes and goes with bird populations. Although having areas where suitable habitat exist is paramount, precipitation plays a key role in the annual boom-bust cycle when it comes to annual quail production, especially in semi-arid regions such as the Rolling Plains and South Texas.

Quail Population Sets Record in Rolling Plains

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists conduct quail surveys in Texas each year in late summer. The census has been done since 1978, but it was this year that produced the highest average in the Rolling Plains of Texas, 50.2 birds per survey line.

Texas Rolling Plains Quail Population

TPWD personnel count birds by driving 20 mile routes in early morning, when bobwhite quail are most visible. The long term average for the Rolling Plains Region is 20.16, and the previous record was 49.25, in 1987. So it’s been a while, but good news for quail and quail hunters.

But it always wasn’t so rosy. During an extended drought, the Rolling Plains quail survey counted a record low of 2.91 birds per census line in 2013. That’s just a few years ago! Fast-forward to today, after two growing seasons that provided excellent rainfall, and quail numbers in the Rolling Plains have gone from worst to first. Quail are a boom-bust species, so the boom is on.

South Texas Quail Hunting Still Good

Most of South Texas had great quail hunting last season with good outings reported right up to the end of the season. Spring-summer nesting was reported across the region but field observations of broods were mixed this year. Weather conditions were variable along with nesting and brooding activity in the later summer months.

Despite differences in production, the sheer number of quail surviving from last year coupled with even minimal reproduction will likely make for an another good quail year. The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 14 compared to 21 last year. This suggests a slightly below average hunting season for South Texas as a whole, but I wouldn’t sit at home.

The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities. Staff surveys on the Chaparral WMA recorded above average numbers of bobwhite on the area again this year. Buy an APH permit and go!

Texas Quail: Hunting for Birds Elsewhere

TPWD surveys indicate that bobwhite numbers have fallen below average in the Gulf Prairies where only 3.8 bobwhites were observed per route in 2016 compared to 14.9 last year. Although there was good carryover of adult birds along the coast, bobwhite nesting was likely adversely affected by too much rainfall in this region.

Despite a lower estimated population in this region, field reports suggest there are huntable populations of quail on well-drained sites. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.

The High Plains and Edwards Plateau of Texas reported a general, continued increase quail numbers. Although there are certainly areas within each region of Texas where some quail hunting opportunity remains, this survey is not designed to detect changes in localized populations, especially in fragmented landscapes.

Does Aflatoxin Impact Bobwhite Quail Populations, Hunting?

Does corn high in aflatoxin impact bobwhite quail populations? Quail have been on the decline for years, with wide speculation regarding what the ultimate problem/s may be. Many researchers point to a number of changing parameters with quail’s environment, but aflatoxin is often mentioned.

The Impact of Aflatoxin on Quail

“In trying to identify reasons behind the decline in quail populations in Texas, we determined it would be worthwhile to study whether aflatoxins, which are fungal toxins that contaminate grain, might be a concern,” said Dr. Susan Cooper, AgriLife Research wildlife ecologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde.

“We wondered whether eating grain-based feed supplements for wildlife, especially deer corn, might possibly expose quail to chronic low levels of aflatoxin poisoning, thereby affecting their reproductive ability.”

“We knew that experimental doses of even small amounts of aflatoxins may cause liver damage and immunosuppression,” Cooper explained. “So the objective of this study was to determine whether consumption of aflatoxins in feed at those levels likely to be encountered as a result of wild quail eating supplemental feed provided for quail, deer or livestock, would result in a reduction in their reproductive output.”

Corn with Aflatoxin Fed to Quail

Cooper said the results of the study showed intermittent consumption of aflatoxin-contaminated feed had no measurable effect on the body weight, feed consumption and visible health of either species of quail. “The reproductive output, measured by number of eggs produced, egg weight and yolk weight, was also unaffected,” she said. “Thus, in the short term, it appears that chronic low-level exposure to aflatoxins has no measurable deleterious effects on the health and productivity of quail.”

Cooper said as a result of the study it was possible to conclude that aflatoxins in supplemental feed are unlikely to be a factor contributing to the long-term population decline of northern bobwhite and scaled quail through reduced health or egg production. However, she cautioned that feed should be kept dry to avoid potential contamination with higher levels of aflatoxin that may be harmful.

”This project also does not address any long-term effects of aflatoxin consumption that may become evident when wild bobwhite quail are exposed to nutritional or environmental stresses,” she said.

Quail Populations Up on Better Habitat in Texas

Bobwhite quail populations are up substantially in Texas thanks to better habitat. Quail hunters, on owned or leased land, should see more birds than they have over the past decade. Thanks to timely rainfall and cooler temperatures this year, Texas quail hunters can anticipate hearing more bobwhites during the upcoming quail hunting season, which gets under way statewide Saturday, October 31.

Bobwhite quail could provide the best indicator of how timely rainfall has benefited wildlife in Texas this year. The combination of spring and summer rainfall and lower-than-average temperatures across most of the summer has resulted in a flush of vegetation and insects and an extended window of opportunity for nesting, a combination for success that quail have not enjoyed for many years.

Quail in Texas

Reports from South Texas sound the most dramatic, according to Robert Perez, TPWD’s quail authority, with broods being observed all summer long, multiple age classes and large brood size (good chick survival).

“Some are predicting a real boom year in some parts of South Texas,” Perez noted. “The Rolling Plains have been hit hardest over the last several years with periods of extended drought, but the needle is definitely moving in the right direction. Survey results showed some improvement last year but quail appear to have made a striking recovery in the region this past summer. The quail roadside index recorded an amazing five-fold increase. Lots of large broods have been observed there as well, and we expect to see a good bump in numbers in the region.”

Quail season runs through Feb. 28, 2016.The daily bag limit for quail is 15, with 45 in possession. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The bag limit is the maximum number that may be killed during the legal shooting hours in one day.

Perez notes the Gulf Coast is not as tied to rainfall as the arid rangelands, so production can actually be hampered by excessive rains. Early reports of good production and above average survey results in the remnant prairies of the Gulf Coast are a good indication that numbers will likely remain high, as they have been the past couple of years.

Quail are notorious for trending with weather, going through years of exceptional production when conditions are favorable, followed by down turns when the weather doesn’t align properly. Biologists refer to it as “boom and bust” cycles. Last season marked the end of three consecutive years of drought conditions in both South Texas and the Rolling Plains where quail populations began to show signs of recovery. Good hunts were reported in several areas of South Texas and a few areas of the Rolling Plains. Good to excellent hunts were also reported in the central Gulf Coastal Prairies where an all-time high was recorded by the TPWD 2014 survey.

Heading into 2015, excellent late winter conditions produced a flush of winter greens providing nutrition for hens prior to the nesting season. The core Texas quail hunting regions received frequent rainfall events from spring through midsummer which produced excellent nesting cover, abundant forbs and countless insects. Improved habitat combined with summer temperatures that remained below the 100 degree mark through the second week of July allowed quail to enjoy an extended window of breeding and nesting opportunity throughout the Rolling Plains, South Texas and the Trans Pecos.

Consequently, according to Perez, the forecast for quail hunting in many areas of Texas is good to excellent this year. Looking forward, climatologists are predicting an El Nino year which may bring another mild wet winter and excellent breeding conditions heading into the 2016 season.

Texas Quail Symposium in Abilene

There will be a Statewide Quail Symposium held in Abilene, Texas, during September. The last Texas quail pow-wow was held in 1999. Quail populations have done a lot since then. Organizers are urging quail enthusiasts to make plans to attend the Statewide Quail Symposium to be conducted by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service on September 16-18. The event will discuss quail populations, habitat requirements, research and more.

Plans are being finalized for the quail symposium, which will open with a tour of the Trail Ranch at Albany beginning at 1 p.m. September 16. The tour will feature on-the-ground habitat management for bobwhite quail. The remainder of the symposium will take place at the MCM Elegante Hotel in Abilene, where recent research and population dynamics will be covered.

Bobwhite Quail in Texas

“The last time we convened a statewide quail symposium was in 1999 in Abilene,” said Dr. Dale Rollins, a symposium planner. Rollins is AgriLife Extension’s statewide coordinator for the Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative at San Angelo and director of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch at Roby.

“Since then we’ve experienced record lows of bobwhites, scaled or blue quail and consequently, the number of quail hunters,” he said. “We hope we turned the corner last year and we likewise hope to build on that rebound nicely this summer.”

Rollins said the Texas quail symposium will bring together leading professionals and experts in quail management, research and conservation from around the state. “These speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds, including current land managers, research scientists and state agency professionals who will present a wide range of currently relevant and popular topics,” he said.

The September 16 Trail Ranch tour presentations will include talks on quail management, economics, the Texas Quail Index, defining usable space for quail and brush sculpting. The September 17 session slated for 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. will feature talks on the state of quail hunting in Texas, weather and quail, translocating wild quail for re-establishment and eyeworms, plus debates on pen-reared quail and cow and quail coexistence and food plot management for quail. It’s going to be all quail all the time.

The September 18 session from 8-11:15 a.m. will feature talks on the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Quail-Tech, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Institute, Borderlands Research Institute and plans for the next biennium.

Individual preregistration is $50 by Sept. 7 and $75 thereafter. Individual student preregistration is $20 by Sept. 7 and $50 thereafter. Three Texas Department of Agriculture continuing education units in the general category will be offered. For the latest information on the agenda, registration, lodging and more go to, event web site.

The Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative coordinated by Rollins is a $2 million legislatively funded AgriLife Extension statewide initiative supported by Upland Game Bird Stamp revenue. Rollins said those dollars support research projects and AgriLife Extension educational activities including the Statewide Quail Symposium, which represents the culmination of those funds.

Restoring Bobwhite Quail Populations in Texas

Despite the fact that the 2014-15 bobwhite quail hunting season was the best one in about 10 years Texas is putting more money to work to restore bobwhite populations within the state. It’s not simply a stocking program, but rather additional research to identify limiting factors affecting quail numbers. There is still some debate among landowners with regards to the “smoking gun” that has decimated bobwhite populations, although biologists agree many factors have contributed to the decline.

Habitat. The loss of critically-important quail habitat has been cited as the number one factor plaguing quail across Texas. Of course, fire ants, feral hogs, increased populations of raccoons, opossums, skunks, “clean” farming practices and overgrazing by livestock have only added fuel to the fire. In many areas, intense grazing by livestock has lead to the direct loss of the native bunchgrasses that bobwhite quail populations need to survive and thrive. Scattering seed grain and food plots for habitat improvement can help in local areas, but more is needed to make a difference at a larger scale.

Bobwhite Quail in Texas

The state of Texas has dedicated millions of dollars to help in the fight to boost quail populations. “There are a lot of generations now that haven’t even seen a quail,” said Matt Reidy, a wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

The bird, once popular among Texas hunters, has seen a serious decline over the past decade in the state. Researchers believe that it is due to a loss of habitat. “It’s a bird that is really unique in that quail need specific habitat, and those habitats are declining,” said Reidy. He also noted that bobwhite quail are a good indicator of the health of grasslands, thus determining how well other species can survive in the habitat.

Rancher Frates Seeligson, who owns close to 5,200 acres near Stockdale, Texas, along with other landowners, has been helping fight the quail issue. Seeligson joined forces with Texas Parks and Wildlife four years ago and began the long process of restoring his land to its natural state. The move was intended to bring back native species.

“It’s not necessarily quail, while I love quail, and the quail are a game species and there’s a lot of money in hunting quail; it’s more for doing the program to get to the proper habitat and the balance that nature intended for this part of the state,” said Seeligson.

Seeligson believes the move has paid off. Now the state is also pitching in, to the tune of $6 million, to further fund restorations similar to what has taken place on Seeligson’s land. The hope is that quail will return to the area, and by most accounts, it is a process that has already started.

According to Seeligson, he recently discovered multiple coveys of quails on his land, for the first time in 15 years — an indication, he believes, that the program was working.

Texas Quail Hunting Better, But Not Out of the Woods

Texas is still plagued by a long-term drought, but this year much of the state received enough timely rain to promote robust nesting by bobwhite quail. The reproduction effort this year will spur population growth that will should support what could be the best quail hunting season than in recent memory. But even if things are looking better this season, such short-term population changes do not reflect the long-term downward trend of Texas quail.

Since 1980, bobwhite populations in Texas have declined at a rate of about 5.6 percent per year. Scaled quail populations in western Texas have declined at a rate of about 2.9 percent per year. These numbers add up – or down to be more correct – to a 75 percent loss in bobwhites and a 66 percent loss in scaled quail. Many reasons are cited for the declines, but evidence points to changes in the quantity and quality of habitat as the leading cause.

Quail in Texas

Besides quail, at least 24 other grassland birds are all in serious decline. The situation was highlighted in the “The State of the Birds 2014” report released Sep. 9, billed as the most comprehensive review of long-term trend data for U.S. birds ever conducted. The report stated “Since 1968, the grasslands indicator for 24 obligate breeding birds declined by nearly 40%.” This explains why birding groups like the American Bird Conservancy are partners in the quail initiative. By restoring grassland habitat, it benefits many birds at the ecosystem level.

“Birds like the scissor-tailed flycatcher, even the meadowlark, a traditionally common bird that is now in decline—none of these birds are hunted, so hunting is not the issue,” Perez said. “Even though the bobwhite is our flagship species, we don’t have a narrow focus on a single species; we know when we improve grassland habitat we’re helping dozens of bird species.”

There was some good news for grassland birds in the national report, which went on to say their “…decline flattened out beginning in 1990. This recent stabilization noted in the 2009 report continues today, reflecting the significant investments made in grassland bird conservation…Conservation works!”

Quail restoration grants are guided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Upland Game Bird Strategic Plan, a five year road map for quail recovery. This in turn is part of a national umbrella plan, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.

Quail Populations Up in Texas: Better Hunting in the Future?

It’s been a tough run for quail over the past few years. Persistent drought has hammered many species, but bobwhite quail have really suffered due to poor nesting habitat across Texas. But quail respond readily to the addition of water, as was the case in 2014. Much-needed rainfall at the right times this year are helping to bolster bobwhite quail numbers and should lead to improved hunting compared to last season, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.

Texas quail season opens statewide on October 25 and runs through February 20, 2015.The daily bag limit for quail is 15, with 45 in possession. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The bag limit is the maximum number that may be killed during the legal shooting hours in one day.

Bobwhite Quail in Texas

Continued drought conditions over much of the core quail hunting areas in the spring and summer of 2013 resulted in below average production last year and many ranches opted to limit hunting last season in hopes to aid local recovery.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) quail surveys show modest recovery this year, thanks to adequate range conditions during the nesting season. Biologists stress that additional winter rains are needed to aid continued population recovery into next spring and summer.

One region indicative of a positive shift is the Gulf Prairies where TPWD quail surveys showed 19.9 bobwhites were observed per route compared to 11.3 last year and is a record high for this area.

“Bobwhite are less dependent on rainfall in this region, where there is usually enough moisture available for nesting,” said TPWD wildlife biologist Robert Perez. “Habitat conditions in areas of native rangeland are in good condition. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.”

Most of the quail country around the state saw similar improvement in quail numbers compared to last year, although still below the long term average since quail surveys began in 1978. In South Texas, for example, surveys showed 11.6 birds per route compared to 6 last year. This is below the long term average of 17.4 and is predictive of a below average hunting season for the region as a whole. However, field staff and ranch-level surveys on private and public lands are reporting above average numbers in many areas.

In the Rolling Plains, rangelands are in recovery and where grazing has been reduced, Perez said prime nesting habitat is definitely more available than last year. Field reports suggest that many areas have improved enough to support limited hunting and last year’s hot spots will likely improve this season.

“Although there are certainly areas within each region where some quail hunting opportunity remains, this survey is not designed to detect changes in localized populations, especially in fragmented landscapes,” Perez cautioned. “Looking forward, most of the core Texas quail hunting regions did get a flush of vegetation and insects and a corresponding increase in bobwhite reproductive efforts.”