Statewide surveys were initiated in 1978 to monitor quail populations — Historical survey data, 1978 to 2022. 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 2008 to 2022.
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Bobwhite Quail Season Overview
Overview — if there were hopes that last year’s growing season rainfall would be the catalyst for bobwhite reproduction in 2022, they were quickly dashed as we began the long march into drought last fall. December turned into one of the warmest, driest on record, and while a mild winter might bode well for quail in most years, there was so much as too much of a good thing. September through March proved to be one of the driest stretches on record and measurable precipitation was absent from most of the state until late April; a welcome exception, the Panhandle received late season snow in March. In the South a good year of production and grass growth in 2021 was insulation from the worst these conditions, but up north there was little cushion. The common refrain was, “hot and dry,” resulting in little early season breeding activity. Pushing into May and June scattered, intermittent showers and runs of cooler days sparked calling and the first reports of nests and broods on the ground, but the unrelenting heat that followed limited any meaningful gains. Long stretches (>30 days) of 100-degree days became the norm and July was the hottest July on record in Texas since 1895, and the fifth driest. With few exceptions the trajectory for Texas bobwhite populations was set early on, difficult to alter, and the continuation of a multi-year stretch of below average abundance that began in 2018.
As we kicked off our annual Quail Roadside Survey period in August reports of range conditions ran the gamut, but a consistent thread was a decline in habitat quality as we moved into late summer. Outside a handful of counties in South Texas bobwhites were few and far in-between. The lack of birds was most apparent in the Rolling Plains where, for the second year in a row, the region set an all-time low for abundance; the 0.86 bobwhites per route was well below our 15-year mean of 12.10 and lower than the 1.50 bobwhites per route observed in 2021. This downward trend was similar for the other northern regions, including the High Plains and Cross Timbers. However, the lone bright spot again this year was the South Texas Plains, the only bobwhite region in the state to see an increase in recorded abundance. With a grain of salt (see South Texas details below), the number of bobwhites observed per route was up from 3.10 to 5.26, but still below the 15-year mean of 9.01. These numbers will provide some comfort to Texas hunters, but the statewide outlook again points to tough sledding in 2022.
Finally, it is unknown how widespread rainfall throughout August and September will impact bird populations. It’s likely this late season moisture will improve opportunities for late season nesting, but how well those broods will fair and what their contributions will be to fall populations remains unknown. With that said, we’re sure all Texans would welcome any new recruits to help springboard bobwhites into the new year.
Rolling Plains Outlook — there’s little solace for bobwhite hunters heading to the Rolling Plains this year as populations contracted for a fourth straight year. As previously noted, during the drought years from 2011-2013 we observed an average of 3.86 bobwhites per route, while from 2020-2022 that average was a disappointing 1.87. When paired with long-term changes in habitat, the impacts of inconsistent annual precipitation have clearly driven populations downward. Some areas along the Canadian River welcomed rainfall earlier in the year and in those areas bobwhite numbers and range conditions are encouraging (e.g., Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area), but exceptional heat likely dampened reproductive activity elsewhere. Most late season reports reference single birds, pairs, and small coveys (e.g., 6-8 birds; Cottle County), with chick sightings at a premium. There has also been a notable deterioration in habitat quality for most counties, even those areas where early season vegetation reports were optimistic. With close ties to nesting habitat and insect production, worsening cover conditions (e.g., grasses, forbs) only exacerbated the impacts of the drought. As such, we expect below average hunting conditions across the region, and while there are certain to be scattered pockets of good hunting, the overall outlook is less promising.
South Texas Outlook — if there was an enigma these past few years it’s been South Texas. Despite our survey numbers indicating below average abundance in 2021, the on-the-ground reports were more encouraging. Hunting exceeded expectations with hunters moving upwards of 10-20 coveys per day, and as many as 30 into the late season (e.g., Duval, Jim Hogg, McMullen counties). Only interrupted by a mid-January cold front, many went home with well worked dogs. This level of production was insulation for populations heading into 2022 and it turned out to be needed. Early season rainfall led to an early season hatch in some regions (e.g., Sand Sheet) and counties (e.g., Webb, Dimmit, Maverick), but drought conditions settled in early and led to a deterioration in habitat conditions. An increase in wildfires highlighted the difficulties, with temperatures soaring throughout the summer. There were exceptions, and bright spots included Bee, Duval, Live Oak, and McMullen counties, which all seemed to have benefited from good production this year. Of those, Bee and Live Oak represented two of the top three bobwhite survey routes for South Texas (Willacy rounding out the top tier). We observed a bump from 3.10 bobwhites per route in 2021 to 5.26 in 2022, and while still below our 15-year mean of 9.01, left us hopeful for the upcoming season. To that end, late summer rainfall may benefit South Texas with its longer nesting season and should improve the outlook in the coming months. We expect average hunting conditions across the region, with certain ranches and counties outperforming our forecast as usual.
Other Ecoregions — dry conditions put the Gulf Prairies in a position to be successful early, but the availability of cover resources and insects decreased as we moved deeper into the summer and made successful nesting and brooding less likely. There is little recent evidence to make us believe otherwise, and our counts fell below average for a fifth year in a row. The High Plains took the brunt of the drought and with herbaceous cover at a premium, the region is unfortunately mirroring a landscape we became familiar with in 2011. As for the Cross Timbers, there were plenty of anomalies when it came to bobwhite observations, with biologists reporting coveys in areas not typically seen. However, that will be a footnote in a year where below average abundance and hunting opportunities are again expected in the region.
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 2022. 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|
Bobwhite Quail Survey Data by Ecoregion
The average number of bobwhites seen per route was 0.86 compared to 1.50 last year. This is well below the 15-year mean of 12.10. 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. For the second year in a row TPWD is offering 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 2008 to 2022. 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.