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?”
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