Statewide surveys were initiated in 1978 to monitor quail populations — Historical survey data, 1978 to 2021. This index uses randomly selected, 20-mile roadside survey lines to determine annual quail population trends by ecological region. Comparisons can be made between the mean (average) number of quail seen per route this year and the 15-year mean for each ecological region. The following sections provide an overview of populations and habitat throughout the state, as well as trend and survey data by ecological region from 2007 to 2021.
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Bobwhite Quail Season Overview
Overview — apart from Winter Storm Uri, mild winter conditions throughout the state were a welcome reprieve for bobwhite populations that were coming off a third year of below average abundance. With the understanding that there were few birds heading into this spring, and even fewer hens, it was imperative to get off to a fast start this nesting season. However, a relatively dry start to the year likely put a damper on early nesting activity. To the relief of many Texans, storm clouds arrived in May and persisted through June providing some of the best early growing season rainfall we’ve received in years. Reports of good to excellent habitat conditions were plentiful and temperatures were below average for much of the state, setting expectations high for hunters and biologists. A flush of grass and forb (i.e., weeds, flowering plants) growth set the stage for bobwhites and reports of nesting began in mid- to late-May with brood sightings quick to follow. While rainfall totals trended back towards average in July for some, many Rolling Plains and South Texas counties continued to see above average rainfall through July, improving the outlook for bobwhite populations.
Heading into TPWD’s annual Quail Roadside Survey period in August, males could be heard calling regularly along morning drives however, adult and brood sightings remained low at a time when there was an expectation that we would be observing more birds. Unfortunately, this trend held true during our surveys and the average number of bobwhites observed per route in the Rolling Plains and South Texas were surprisingly the lowest since the survey’s inception in 1978. At 1.50 bobwhites per route in the Rolling Plains, our survey numbers fell well below the 15-year mean of 13.44 and were lower than the 3.25 bobwhites per route observed in 2020. South Texas dipped to 3.10 birds per route from 3.77 birds per route in 2020, with the region also below their 15-year mean of 9.13. Despite reports of birds calling along most routes, these numbers left much to be desired given how great habitat looked across much of the state.
Dense vegetation along our survey routes likely diminished visibility for our biologists, but what effect it had on our overall numbers is difficult to say. We have experienced these lush conditions before, but rarely paired with such low survey numbers. There has also been the suggestion that Winter Storm Uri may have hurt populations. To what extent the storm impacted birds is tough to assess, and would be mostly speculative, but it likely presented yet another hurdle to survival and to individuals ramping up for the nesting season. Notwithstanding the similarities in our survey numbers, the hunting outlooks for the Rolling Plains and South Texas are quite different.
Rolling Plains Outlook — it has become clear that the last 3 years took their toll on bobwhite populations in the Rolling Plains. For perspective, during the drought years from 2011-2013 we averaged 3.86 bobwhites per route, while from 2018-2020 we averaged 4.08 bobwhites per route. For many counties, a lack of quality nesting cover heading into the 2021 season likely played a role. With minimal grass cover, low population numbers and a late start to the nesting season, it appears there wasn’t enough collective energy to make as strong a push toward recovery as we observed in 2014. Late nesting activity continued throughout the region and broods were still being observed in many counties through September (e.g., Donley, Gray, Mitchell, Shackleford), however there appears to have been minimal carryover from the early nesting season. Heading into the hunting season many are hopefully those late broods will improve the outlook and catapult populations into 2022. It’s worth noting that the consensus of many TPWD biologists was that bird numbers were not quite as low as our surveys suggest, but that numbers are low. As such, we expect below average hunting conditions across the region. As we find each year, there are always exceptions for local ranches and counties, and there will undoubtedly be scattered pockets of good hunting.
South Texas Outlook — hunting prospects in South Texas are much more promising, mirroring a scenario we witnessed play out last year. Despite low survey numbers following a good year of reproduction, the region accounted for ~80% of statewide bobwhite harvest in 2020. Early reports suggest bobwhite populations in the region were buoyed by spring and summer rainfall and most expect populations and harvest will once again outperform our survey estimates. Importantly, were this outcome to hold true it would represent the exception not the rule, as bobwhite harvest and surveys numbers have historically tracked each other well. The reports are especially promising for those areas east of I-35 and particularly for the region known as the sand sheet (e.g., Brooks, Kenedy counties). Notably, while habitat conditions are typically drying up in August, our biologists reported the region was as green as they’d ever seen it during our survey period. We expect above average, good to very good hunting in this part of South Texas. The areas west of I-35 to Del Rio are also expecting above average, good hunting. While those counties didn’t receive as much rainfall across the board, conditions throughout the summer were favorable for bobwhites. There will be exceptions throughout the region but overall, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about quail hunting in South Texas this year.
Other Ecoregions — most other ecoregions including the High Plains, Edwards Plateau, and Cross Timbers also benefitted from the spring/summer rains and there were universal reports of good to excellent habitat conditions. As grass cover is often a limiting factor for bobwhite in these regions, this growing season did a lot to promote nesting cover in 2022. However, as with the Rolling Plains, the number of breeding birds heading into the spring season was low and as such we anticipate below average hunting conditions for most of these areas. Bobwhite in the Gulf Prairies did make some gains this year and we anticipate for those with accessible land to hunt, conditions will be average.
We would like to thank all the TPWD biologists who cover over 3,300 road miles each August to help us develop our annual forecast and who provided valuable insights for this forecast. As always, connecting with these local biologists is a great way to learn more about bobwhite populations in a particular area, as our surveys only provide a representation of bobwhite numbers at the regional level. We would also like to thank the many partners, landowners, and local hunters who shared their thoughts and perspectives on the state of quail in 2021. Best of luck to all this hunting season!
Bobwhite Quail 15-Year Trend Data
|Year||Cross Timbers||Edwards Plateau||Gulf Prairies||High Plains||Rolling Plains||South Texas Plains|
*Gulf Prairies 2013 data correction: In an effort to improve internal efficiency and communication, TPWD migrated to a new quail survey database in 2020. At this time, all data were reviewed for accuracy. In the course of this review, 2 errors were found in the 2013 Northern Bobwhite quail count dataset. As a result of correcting these errors, the mean number of quail per route in the Gulf Prairies changed from 10.78 (incorrect) to 9.70 (correct) in 2013. To date, this is the only error we have identified.
Bobwhite Quail Survey Data by Ecoregion
The average number of bobwhites seen per route was 1.50 compared to 3.25 last year. This is well below the 15-year mean of 13.44. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Gene Howe and Matador Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). We expect these WMAs to provide below average hunting conditions. New this year is a Private Lands Quail Hunt in Lipscomb County — applications are due October 15th. Additional hunting opportunities are available through our Annual Public Hunting Permit. As always, scouting ahead and contacting your local biologist are good strategies to ensure a quality experience.
Line graph illustration of the TPWD quail roadside survey results for the Rolling Plains Ecoregion from 2007 to 2021. The mean (average) number of bobwhite quail seen per route for each year is represented by the black line. The 15-year mean (average) is represented by the blue line.