Landowner Practices May Deter Quail Nest Predation

cbe8d9cf-9157-4099-9b2a-c6ed8e1d1ab3 It's well known that northern bobwhites are resilient and innovative when it comes to replenishing their numbers. In addition to hens nesting two and often three times in a single season, male bobwhites also will sit on a nest and raise a brood of their own. Hens that successfully raise a brood early in the season will regularly try to re-nest and raise another. Moreover, hens with chicks are known to abandon their brood to another adult once the chicks reach 20 to 30 days of age and re-nest while conditions may still be favorable.

All of these strategies help quail populations overcome high nest predation rates and predation rates in general. But what can landowners do, if anything, to help tilt the balance of nest predation in the bobwhite's favor?

Studies throughout the United States have looked into quail nest predation, and the results are fairly consistent. While snakes and some bird species are among the culprits, mammals consistently are the top nest predators. Striped skunks, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, armadillos, feral hogs and rodents have all been documented as predators of quail nests to some degree. Successful hatch rates of nesting quail can vary from 12 percent to 50 percent, with predators accounting for more than 80 percent of the losses. While the specific numbers can vary depending on location, striped skunks, raccoons and opossums consistently rank high among quail nest predators. In certain locations, armadillos and feral hogs can affect the nests of ground-nesting birds, but research is limited to classify them as significant nest predators across the entirety of the bobwhite's range.

Fortunately, there are things that land managers and hunter-conservationists can do to help minimize the loss of quail nests as well as other ground-nesting birds. The table below has a list of common problems affecting bobwhite quail today with regard to nesting, and offers solutions for landowners and hunter-conservationists to consider when making management decisions.

For more information about improving habitat for quail in Oklahoma, call Scott Cox, senior upland game biologist, at (405) 301-9945; Kyle Johnson, quail restoration biologist, at (405) 684-1929; Doug Schoeling, private lands biologist for western Oklahoma, at (405) 590-2584; or RosaLee Walker, private lands biologist for eastern Oklahoma, at (918) 607-1518. 

For more information about improving habitat for quail across bobwhite country, contact your nearest Quail Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologist

For more information about quail and their habitat needs in Oklahoma, check out the Oklahoma Quail Habitat Guide issue of "Outdoor Oklahoma"magazine (May/June 2013) as well as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website.

Increasing Predator Populations More predators are out there which could potentially find a nest. Predator control is expensive and time-consuming, often with little reward for quail. But trappers and predator hunters are always interested in finding new land to access. Using these skilled hunters year after year might just make a difference.
Fragmented Habitats Small, fragmented areas of suitable habitat decreases the search area for predators and increases the chance that a nest will be found. Increase the size of native grass prairie habitats by adding blocks of native grass habitat to connect fragmented, smaller habitat patches.
Degraded Habitats Poor habitats either don't provide suitable nesting structure for quail at all, or the structure is so poor that nests are easy for predators to find. Improve habitat condition by adjusting stocking rates, removing cedar trees, implementing a prescribed fire program, thinning timber, eliminating fescue and Bermuda grass, or planting native grasses and forbs.
Loss of Habitat The loss of habitat further fragments the landscape and quail are having to use smaller habitat patches. Convert agricultural land and monoculture pastures of fescue and Bermuda grass back to native grass prairie and aggressively thin closed canopy forests to restore the diverse herbaceous understory.
Ill-timed Agricultural Practices Nests are destroyed by untimely mowing or haying of suitable nesting areas. Avoid or delay mowing/haying native grass prairie, grassy waterways, pastures and roadside ditches until at least Aug. 1 and preferably Sept. 1.
Predator Attractants Supplemental feeding of wildlife, especially deer, from April through August attracts and congregates predators (especially raccoons), increasing the risk of predation.

Avoid using supplemental feed for quail, deer, and other wildlife from April through August, especially within and near native grass nesting areas.

Article courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Photo Credit: Pete Berthelsen / Quail Foreve