Quail Survey History
Texas Parks and Wildlife designed the roadside quail survey in 1976 to track quail production trends at only the statewide and physiographic region spatial scales. The 20-mile routes were randomly assigned and most counties have either zero or one routes. Staff runs each route only once during the first two weeks of August. Biologists record the number of singles, pairs, coveys, and number of quail within coveys for each quail species by 1-mile increments. The relative age of broods also is recorded. Due to legislatively mandated budget cuts, all routes were discontinued in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, and High Plains ecological areas in 1988. Certain routes in other ecological areas also were discontinued at this time. In 1993, many High Plains routes were reinitiated.
Route counts are not replicated within a given year. For this reason, the number of quail observed during any single observation is not necessarily indicative of quail abundance in the general area of the route. For example, when routes are run on consecutive days it is common to see 3 birds one day and 30 the next. This occurs because quail often occur in groups (coveys). In reality, we just happened to see a pair and a single on the first day, and two coveys the next. For this same reason, observing 3 quail one year and 30 the next on a single route run once annually does not mean there are more quail in the area during year two. If TPWD wanted to track trends in quail abundance associated with a single route, we would have to run that route 20-30 times during August. Agency biologists do not require quail data at this fine scale and TPWD currently has insufficient staff and funding to collect it.
Similarly, if TPWD wanted to understand quail abundance trends in individual Texas counties, 20 to 30 routes scattered randomly through each county would be required. In that way, routes would be representative of habitats in the county. Additionally, enough routes would be used to avoid the problems associated with running routes only once (see above). Alternatively, one could run fewer routes multiple times. Data collected at this scale would be valuable to hunters, but the Department does not require such information for management purposes or the regulatory process. At any rate, TPWD does not have the resources to run thousands of routes.
Ecological Area Scale
Instead, TPWD made the decision in the late 1970s to run 20-30 randomly chosen routes in each ecological area. By having several routes in a given physiographic region, the fact that any given route might have 3 quail one day and 30 the next does not matter—you see a hump-shaped distribution of quail abundance for the region. By chance, a few unusually low and high values are returned, but most observations occur somewhere in the middle. In this way, TPWD obtains reliable information on quail trends at this spatial scale. These data are then combined and used at the statewide scale. An independent perspective can be obtained via hunter surveys. Approximated 90% of the variation in the number of northern bobwhite and scaled quail bagged annually can be explained by the mean number of quail observed per survey route in a given ecological area. So far, sufficient personnel and financial resources were available to collect quail abundance data at the ecological area scale, but there is pressure to discontinue this survey entirely. Hopefully, we will be able to maintain this effort.
Unfortunately, many folks have incorrectly assumed that data collected to provide information at the scale of physiographic regions also are directly applicable at finer spatial scales (counties, habitat associated with a given route). For reasons described above, this is not so. This issue has confused the public and many wildlife biologists alike. One can glean only limited reliable information from these data at spatial scales finer than physiographic regions.
Quail Abundance Data at Fine Scales
Hunters can obtain useful anecdotal information on quail abundance for counties or groups of counties from the TPWD District Leader responsible for that area. These individuals have their thumb on quail abundance in their District and will gladly share this knowledge with you. To find the District Leader responsible for your area of interest, please call Wildlife Information at 800-792-1112-5-1 and the operator will give you their telephone number.
Certainly, the best way to obtain reliable data on quail abundance for individual pastures and ranches is to implement surveys designed for this purpose. Numerous wildlife biologists are able and willing to help design and implement survey protocols to meet specific needs. Wildlife extension specialists from universities or TPWD can help. Additionally, private wildlife management consultants abound. Lastly, several excellent publications outline these survey methods. For example, see Dr. Fred Guthery’s "Beef, Brush, and Bobwhites: Quail Management in Cattle Country" (1986, CKWRI, Texas A&M University, Kingsville, pp. 132-145).
If you have questions regarding what TPWD quail survey data can and cannot tell us, call Wildlife Information, (800) 792-1112, Menu 5, Menu 1).