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Quail Need Help Rebuilding Numbers
AUSTIN, Texas — For some, the 2006-07 Texas quail hunting season may not have been as rewarding as in recent years, with dry conditions contributing to below-average quail production and fewer birds in the field.
As the season draws to a close Feb. 25, there’s hope renewed for the future of this important upland gamebird, so long as there’s help from landowners and managers. Now is the time to begin making habitat management decisions that will have positive impacts on quail in the years to come, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
“This was not a stellar season by Texas standards, but it was still better than in 48 or 49 other states,” said Steve DeMaso, TPWD’s Upland Game Bird Program Leader. “Right now weather conditions are looking favorable with winter moisture, but quail populations probably won’t bounce back immediately; it usually takes a couple of years to get the nesting cover back that we lost during last year’s drought.”
Quail prefer to build nests in residual dead bunchgrasses left from the previous year’s growing season. Drought conditions last year created less productivity and more demand on these grasses for other uses, such as livestock grazing. Looking ahead, biologists predict fewer desirable quail nesting sites will be available this summer, but management practices that protect bunchgrass species can still help carry birds during lean times.
“Quail won’t nest in green grass, but they will attempt to nest in forbs and shrubs if the preferred cover is lacking,” DeMaso said. “Late winter and early spring is typically the time for prescribed burning to get rid of rank ground cover and open things up. Now is a good time to do any strip disking if you have dense growth that needs to be opened up, but really the biggest contribution for quail right now is for land managers to do some brush sculpting and managed grazing to reduce livestock numbers to protect the nesting cover for next year.”
Fortunately, landowners and managers with an interest in helping quail populations now have several resource and incentive options available through TPWD as part of the Texas Quail Conservation Initiative, a recovery plan developed by a consortium of wildlife experts and quail stakeholders.
TPWD’s new Managed Lands Gamebird Program serves as the agency’s clearinghouse for quail management, connecting landowners with wildlife biologists at the local level for free habitat conservation guidance. Biologists can make recommendations on habitat improvements, assist landowners interested in cost-sharing incentive programs and help small tract owners build management cooperatives with neighboring landowners.
There are also cost sharing programs under the federal Farm Bill to help landowners doing good things for wildlife habitat. Details on these programs are available on the TPWD web site or from you area wildlife biologist. To find a biologist near you, call toll free 1-800-792-1112.
For those with a strong interest in quail, from ecology and management to hunting and economics, a comprehensive book entitled Texas Quails is now available. With input from nearly two dozen quail experts, including several TPWD biologists, this is the first complete assessment of the four species of quail found in Texas. The book is available from Texas A&M University Press and retails for $40.
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