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.

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