By Marissa Jensen
Despite a challenging winter, biologists and landowners across the state have observed favorable brood numbers over the summer where quality bobwhite quail habitat exists.
Weather and Conditions
Nebraska has continued to experience severe winter weather, including extended periods of snow cover and freezing temperatures in February of 2021, which has contributed to the state’s lower than average population. With bobwhite quail in Nebraska at the northernmost extent of their range, populations are more limited by extreme weather conditions.
However, nesting and brood-rearing conditions has been more favorable, and quail are prolific breeders, which allows an opportunity for the population to rebound from winter weather.
Habitat, Broods, and Counts
Across the state, bobwhite counts through the July Rural Mail Carrier Surveys, along with Whistle Count Surveys, were 10-22 percent lower when compared to the 2020 statistics. To read more on this year’s survey results, along with the 2021 upland hunting forecast, readers can visit www.OutdoorNebraska.org/upland.
Despite a challenging winter, biologists and landowners across the state have observed favorable brood numbers over the summer where quality bobwhite quail habitat exists. Timely rains, coupled with quality habitat, appears to have encouraged additional re-nesting during the late summer across much of southern Nebraska.
“Quail in the southwest region suffered in areas of extreme cold temps where little winter cover was available,” shares Andy Houser, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Senior Coordinating Wildlife Biologist in southwest Nebraska. “Early spring rains created quality nesting cover and conditions for a favorable nesting season. Additionally, quality broods have been observed by multiple biologists out in the field. Although drought conditions have resulted in a variety of covers being removed from haying or grazing, we’re still extremely optimistic that good numbers of coveys will be found in favorable cover.”
Southeastern and south-central Nebraska remains top regions for upland hunters to focus their efforts. Wildlife Management Areas continue to provide quality habitat and populations of upland birds. Additionally, through Nebraska’s unique Habitat Share program, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has impacted 36,000 acres with more than $4.6 million spent on habitat improvements increasing public hunting opportunities across the state.
Likewise, Open Fields and Waters, Nebraska’s public access program developed with the help of many partners, including Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, increases public access opportunities on private lands. Through this program, over 374,000 acres are now available for public access for upland hunters to consider.
Hunters focusing their efforts in the east should target field edges and weedy portions of fields with abundant bare ground, annual grasses, and broadleaf plants (such as foxtail, sunflowers, and ragweed). Although this type of habitat is more limiting in eastern Nebraska, it can often be found in areas that were recently disturbed by conservation practices such as fire, grazing and/or disking. As the season progresses, woody cover and high-energy food become increasingly important to bobwhites. With woody cover more limited in the west, keep an eye on quality plum thicket cover, especially late in the year.
As usual, scouting will help set hunters up for success. Nebraska’s Public Access Atlas and OnX Maps are scouting tools that every Nebraska hunter should have in their box. For those interested in pursuing the state’s excellent mixed-bag opportunities for upland bird species (sharp-tailed grouse, greater prairie chicken, ring-necked pheasant, and northern bobwhite quail), consider participating in Nebraska’s Upland Slam. Learn more at www.OutdoorNebraska.gov/UplandSlam
Nebraska’s bobwhite quail season runs from October 31, 2021 – January 31, 2022.