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Upland Game Birds and Mammals

Biology, Habitat Requirements, Distribution, and Populations in Northcentral Texas

A wide variety of upland game birds and mammals are found in Northcentral Texas that provide hunting and viewing opportunity for sportsmen and nature enthusiasts. The habitats they require and occupy, however, are vital to their existence. Through proper habitat management and regulated hunting by seasons and bag limits, many of these species flourish as renewable resources.

Almost all habitat for wildlife in Northcentral Texas is located on privately owned farms, ranches, and other properties. Habitat for upland game species in Northcentral Texas is not uniform and in many area may not support high annual populations. Each species has unique habitat requirements throughout the year for food, cover, water and space and only through proper management can populations of upland game be maintained.

Today, large areas of once continuous habitat are now fragmented into smaller and smaller units which limits many species of upland game in their ability to reproduce and survive. Islands of remaining habitat in some areas are often unproductive for sustaining populations of many upland game species.

Land use practices directly influence and determine carrying capacity for many upland game species. Providing and properly managing habitat for these species is economically important to landowners and land managers who receive revenue from sportsmen that lease hunting rights. Income from regulated hunting in many cases may exceed that of traditional agricultural. Management of habitat for most upland game species is compatible with other land uses but some concessions are often required to accommodate the biological requirements of upland game species and sustain annual populations. The key is habitat-habitat-habitat!

The following information on various upland game species found in Northcentral Texas is presented to provide general information about their biology, habitat requirements, distribution, and populations.


Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) are found in all counties of Northcentral Texas although populations and habitat quality varies throughout the ecological regions of District 3. Annual populations fluctuate considerably and follow long-term cyclic rainfall patterns. Rainfall patterns throughout the year also influence vegetative growth of perennial grasses that provide nesting cover and forbs that produce seed important to bobwhites in their diet. Insects are also an important food item, particularly for young bobwhites.

Woody escape cover is vital for bobwhites to escape predators and for protection from the elements. In addition, land use practices such as livestock grazing, farming practices, use of herbicides for vegetation control, brush management, predators, and conversion of native rangelands to improved pastures influences the ability of habitat in Northcentral Texas to support populations of bobwhites.

Learn more about Bobwhites in Bobwhite Habitat Management in the Cross Timbers and Prairiesmedia download(PDF 222.1 KB) by Jim Dillard, Technical Guidance Biologist.

Higher populations of bobwhites are traditionally found in the rangelands of the Rolling Plains and West Cross Timbers areas of Northcentral Texas. Large ranches with extensive contiguous acreages of habitat offer the best opportunity to manage this game bird and sustain annual huntable populations. Roadside quail census lines are counted each year by wildlife biologists and wildlife technicians of District 3 to gather information on annual and long term population trends.

Refer to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual for information on open season dates and bag limits for bobwhite in Northcentral Texas. Information on hunting seasons and bag limits can also be found on the individual county webpages. Click to locate your county.

Scaled Quails

Scaled quail (Callipepla squamata), also called "blue quail" or "cotton-top", occupy the dryer brushlands and rangelands of the extreme western and southwestern counties of Northcentral Texas in the Edwards Plateau and Rolling Plains Ecological Regions of District 3. Annual populations fluctuate with rainfall and temperature patterns, land use, and the quality of habitat available that provides necessary cover, food, and space. This species may concentrate in large coveys of 30 or more birds during the winter months and prefers to run rather that hold and flush like bobwhites. They feed on weed seeds, green leaves, shoots, berries and insects. Feather coloration is gray with a distinctive scale-like appearance and a head crest tipped in white. Their range overlaps with bobwhites in some of the western counties of Northcentral Texas where both species may be encountered.

During past years, populations have declined throughout their range in Northcentral Texas but recent surveys indicate numbers may be recovering. Refer to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual for information on open season dates and bag limits for scaled quail in Northcentral Texas.

Rio Grande Turkeys

Rio Grande turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo) are found in all counties of Northcentral Texas where suitable habitat occurs. The western and southwestern areas of Northcentral Texas contain some of the highest populations of Rio Grande turkeys in Texas and the United States. Populations of this upland game bird increased considerably during the 1970s and 1980s in Northcentral Texas following restocking efforts by Texas Parks and Wildlife and natural reproduction and range expansion during this period. Numbers of Rio Grande turkeys vary considerable throughout the region and fluctuate annually, depending on favorable rainfall during the nesting period and overall habitat conditions. During prolonged periods of drought, numbers may decline and then rebound during favorable years. Rio Grande turkeys require tall trees for roosting and good ground vegetation, brush, and grasses for nesting and survival of young (poults). Riparian zones along streams and rivers of the region provide important habitat for this species for roosting, nesting, water, food production, and cover. Winter roosts are commonly found along these drainages but turkeys may also roost on hillsides with tall oak trees and other native tree species. During the nesting period, hens disperse from their winter range to nest and may travel considerable distances. Young reach adult size by early fall.

Rio Grande turkeys have a varied diet throughout the year that may include insects, invertebrates (worms, snails, spiders, arthropods) mast (acorns, nuts, fruits), seeds from grasses and forbs, and greens. Annual reproductive success in measured annually by District 3 wildlife biologist and wildlife technician by hen-poult surveys conducted during late summer.

There are spring and fall hunting seasons for Rio Grande turkeys in most counties of Northcentral Texas. Refer to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Annual for listings of seasons, bag limits, and individual county regulations. A hunting license and State Turkey Stamp are required to hunt turkeys.

Mourning Doves

Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are found in all counties of Northcentral Texas and are an important migratory upland game bird to sportsmen. A resident population of mourning doves occurs year round and migrants from the north move into and through the region during late summer and fall with cooler weather and northerly winds. Annual mourning dove coo call surveys are conducted each May by wildlife biologists and wildlife technicians in District 3 to determine long-term population trends.

This species adapts to a variety of habitat types for nesting and feeding. Mourning doves nest in trees or on the ground. Two or more clutches of 2 eggs each are produced annually. Young are fed "pigeon milk" and later seeds. Doves feed on seeds from a wide variety of native forbs and grasses. Annual sunflowers, croton, ragweed, annual grasses, and waste grains such as wheat, milo, and oats are common food items. The mourning dove is a mobile species that is able to move considerable distances to water sources and feeding areas. During late summer and early fall, large concentrations of mourning doves may be attracted to agricultural fields to feed on waste grain or patches of native annual sunflowers and other forbs (weeds). Excessive and prolonged hunting may result in movements of local populations of birds to other nearby fields.

Cultivation of agricultural fields during August in preparation for planting of fall cereal grains often reduces food availability and increased movement of mourning doves to other areas. Large scale clearing of trees and brush may also reduce nesting habitat for resident mourning doves. Cold fronts often move doves from the central United States southward into Northcentral Texas and temporarily increase populations during September and October. A segment of the mourning dove population migrates south during the winter into south Texas, Mexico, and Central America.

Hunting seasons and daily bag limits are set by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and under authority of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide hunting opportunity in two zones located in Northcentral Texas. The North Zone and South Zone are divided by I-20 and I-30. Refer to Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual for information on hunting zones, seasons, and bag limits for mourning doves in Northcentral Texas. Public dove hunting opportunity is also available in Northcentral Texas on lands leased from private landowners under the Public Hunting Program of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ($48 annual hunting permit) and at Ray Roberts Public Hunting Area in Denton, Cooke, and Grayson counties.

White-winged Doves

White-winged doves (Zenadia asiatica) are a relatively new arrival in Northcentral Texas and numbers appear to be increasing annually. White-wings have expanded their range throughout much of Texas during the past 30 years from their traditional range in Mexico and along the Rio Grande River and brushlands of south and southwest Texas. Expansion northward may be a result of habitat loss in those regions and the creation of suitable nesting habitat in urban settings to the north. Large concentrations occur in San Antonio, Austin, Waco, San Angelo, Abilene, and are increasing in most other cities to the north and throughout Northcentral Texas where they are now year round residents. Some migrate south during the winter into south Texas, Mexico, and Central America.

White-wings nest in leafy trees where they build crude stick nests and lay two eggs. They feed on seeds and some fruits and forage in agricultural fields during the late summer, fall and winter months. They are also attracted to backyard bird feeder.

White-winged doves are included in the season and bag limits along with mourning doves in Northcentral Texas hunting zones. A hunting license and a migratory game bird stamp are required to hunt or posses white-winged doves during the open season. Refer to Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual for information on hunting zones, seasons, and bag limits relating to white-winged doves in Northcentral Texas.

Other Dove Species Several other members of the dove family Columbidae are also found in Northcentral Texas including the small Inca (Columbina inca) and common ground dove (C. passerina), white-tipped dove (Leptotila verreauxi), rock doves or pigeons (Columba livia), and Eurasian collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto).


Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) are found throughout Northcentral Texas although they are less common in the extreme western portions of the region. They occupy a wide variety of habitat types including the oak woodlands, riparian zones, upland savannahs and brushlands, and urban settings. This species is highly adaptable and has likely benefited from the opening of large contiguous tracts of woodlands. Populations are usually highest along streams and rivers of Northcentral Texas where woody species such as pecan, elm, oak, and other mast and fruit producing species grow. They will also eat green shoots and buds, insects, and seeds from other woody plants. Acorns are a staple in their diet which may be stored for later use. Fox squirrels nest in tree cavities or build leaf nests. There are two breeding seasons annually during January-February and May-June and an average of four young are raised per year.

Although seasons and bag limits are designated for many counties in East Texas, in Northcentral Texas they may be hunted year round and there is no bag limit. A hunting license is required.


Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) and desert cottontail rabbits (S. audubonii) are found in Northcentral Texas. Desert cottontails occur in Rolling Plains, Trans Pecos and High Plains regions and in the extreme western portions of Northcentral Texas, whereas the eastern cottontail is found in the eastern three-fourths of the state. Both species are similar in appearance although the western species has longer ears. Cottontails occupy open brushlands, field borders and roadsides, and open rangeland throughout the region. They feed on grasses and forbs but may occasionally eat twigs and bark of shrubs. Cottontails breed year round and four to five litters of four young may be produced. Populations fluctuate with weather patterns. During wet cycles, numbers may increase dramatically. Cottontails may become problematic in gardens, croplands, and urban environments.

Cottontails are an important "buffer species" and are preyed upon by a wide range of raptors and mammals. They are important in the diets of mammalian predators such as coyotes, fox, bobcats, and other carnivores.

Cottontails are classified as nongame animals and there is no closed seasons or bag limits in Texas. They provide considerable hunting recreational opportunity for sportsmen and may be hunted by any legal means or methods at any time on private property. A hunting license is required to hunt cottontails.

Furbearing Mammals

Several species of furbearing mammals occur in Northcentral Texas including American badger (Taxidea taxus), American beaver (Castor canadensis), gray fox (Urocyon cirereoargenteus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), mink (Mustela vison), muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), nutria (Myocastor coypus), Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), raccoon (Procyon lotor), ring-tail (Bassariscus astutus), western spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis), eastern spotted skunk (S. putorius), striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), and common hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus). They occupy different types of habitat ranging from riparian and streamside vegetative zones to open rangelands. These species are an integral component of the predator-prey relationship of many wildlife species found in the ecosystems of Northcentral Texas. Many of these species help prevent overpopulations of small mammals which can impact habitat quality for other species. Populations fluctuate with long-term weather patterns and cycles. In the past, trapping many of these species for the fur market has been economically important to sportsmen. At present, low market demands has contributed to increased populations of many of these species.

Information relating to taking furbearing animals, seasons, bag limits, and other special regulations are provided in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual and a supplement on Fur Bearing Animal Regulations.


Ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) are native to China but were introduced into the United States during the late 1800s. Populations in Texas are primarily restricted to the intensive agricultural farmlands of the High Plains and Coastal Prairies along the upper Texas coast. Pheasant releases by landowners and Texas Parks and Wildlife have contributed to the expansion of pheasants in these regions. Experimental releases of pheasants in Northcentral Texas have been unsuccessful except in the agricultural region of northern Wilbarger County where irrigated croplands and shelterbelts provide adequate year round habitat.

An open season for pheasants is designated for Wilbarger County in Northcentral Texas. Information on regulations for pheasants in other Texas counties is available in the Outdoor Annual. A hunting license is required to hunt pheasants in Wilbarger County.

Migratory Upland Game Birds

Teal - Three species of teal - blue-winged teal (Anas discors), green-winged teal (A. crecca), and cinnamon teal (A. cyanoptera) - migrate through Northcentral Texas and provide hunting opportunity to sportsmen. Teal are some of the earliest waterfowl species to migrate south each fall and the last to return north during the spring. They fly in tight formations with rapid wing beats. These small dabbling ducks feed in shallow water on aquatic vegetation, seeds and crustaceans in ponds and lakes of Northcentral Texas. A special teal only season during mid-September is permitted annually. See the Texas Parks and Wildlife Outdoor Annual for information on season dates and daily bag limits for teal. A state Waterfowl Stamp, Federal Duck Stamp, and annual hunting license is required to hunt teal.

Other Ducks - The most common species of ducks that migrate through Northcentral Texas each fall and spring include wood duck (Axis sponsa), mallard (Anas platyrhunchos), northern pintail (A. acuta), northern shoveler (A. clypeata), gadwall (A. strepera), American wigeon (A. americana), canvasback (Aythya valisineria), redhead (A. americana), ring-necked duck (A. collaris), lesser scaup (A. affinis), bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), common merganser (Mergus merganser), ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), and several other species that are occasionally observed on migration. These species may be found on many of the larger reservoirs throughout Northcentral Texas on small ponds and lakes, rivers, and streams where suitable feeding habitat exists. Numbers increase as northern temperatures begin to fall and birds filter southward through the region. Duck populations vary from year to year in Northcentral Texas depending on the availability of surface water, food, and weather conditions. Populations are generally higher in counties where there are extensive croplands that produce winter wheat, peanuts, and other grains.

Most hunting is done on larger reservoirs, although small ponds also provide considerable hunting opportunity. In Northcentral Texas, public hunting is available under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Annual Public Hunting Permit at two Corps of Engineer reservoirs under license agreements with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Ray Roberts Public Hunting Area in Denton, Cooke, and Grayson Counties. Hunters should check with other local water district or river authorities regarding rules and regulations relating to waterfowl hunting on other public waters in Northcentral Texas.

Waterfowl hunting regulations for ducks are set annually by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commission under guidelines provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are available around September 1 of each year. A special brochure on waterfowl regulations will be published and made available to hunters at license vendors or may be found on the Migratory Game Bird Regulations website. Waterfowl hunters must purchase an annual hunting license, Texas State Duck Stamp, and a Federal Waterfowl Stamp to hunt ducks in Texas.

Geese - Several species of geese migrate through Northcentral Texas, the most common being white-fronted (Anser albifrons), snow (Chen caerulescens), and Canada geese (Branta canadensis). Most birds continue their southward movements and are in Northcentral Texas only a short time during migration to the Texas coast. Some winter concentrations do occur in the wheat growing western counties of Northcentral Texas where they feed on waste grains and greens and provide hunting opportunity to sportsmen during the open season for geese.

Sandhill Cranes - Numerous high-flying flocks of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) migrate through Northcentral Texas each fall and spring, often stopping to roost on wheat fields or feed on waste grains in agricultural croplands. Winter concentrations may occur in the northwestern and western counties of Northcentral Texas and provide good hunting opportunity for sportsmen. Sandhill cranes roost on shallow lakes, wet areas, or sandy stream beds and feed in croplands during the day on green wheat, waste grains, peanuts, berries, invertebrates, small animals, and insects. Large concentrations are also found on the High Plains, Coastal Plains, and South Texas brush country during the winter months.

Regulations for hunting sandhill cranes in three zones in Texas is published along with those for ducks and geese and will be available after September 1 or on the Migratory Game Bird Regulations Sandhill Crane website. A free Federal Sandhill Crane Hunting Permit and hunting license is required to hunt sandhill cranes.

More information about upland game in Northcentral Texas can be found in literature on our Wildlife Publications page.