The second most influential factor for the success of quail populations throughout their range is weather.
WEATHER & HABITAT DRIVE quail POPulations
Weather is another extremely important factor in determining quail numbers. Severe winter storms can potentially decimate quail populations overnight. Cold wet springs can claim an equally devastating number of newborn chicks who do not develop the ability to regulate their own temperature until three weeks of age. The direct effects of weather are obvious—less obvious is the indirect role weather can play on quail numbers.
quail THRIVE IN MILD WEATHER
Generally speaking, quail do best in mild weather conditions. Mild weather is especially appreciated during the nesting period, as the amount of rainfall can greatly determine nesting success. Rain is essential in that it spurs vegetation growth, creates nesting cover, and attracts insects for new broods to feed on. However, heavy rains or flash flood events can wash out nests before eggs hatch or wash away the young quail before they can escape the rising water.
As the nesting season progresses into June and chicks hatch, mild weather remains key for quail. Chicks become susceptible to exposure in elements that are too cold or too wet. In addition, periods of extended drought can adversely affect cover quality and make insects and food less available.
Winter: The Toughest Season
A 2°F night with even a moderate wind of 11 mph creates a wind chill of -25°F. How can quail survive such conditions?
The arrival of cold and snow doesn't necessarily mean a death sentence for quail. In fact, these hardy birds can do remarkably well even in tough winters provided quality winter cover is available. Winter habitat includes grass cover for roosting at night, trees and shrubs to loaf in during the day, and food. With adequate habitat, a quail's body fat content can be at its highest in January.
Yet the major cause of quail winter mortality is freezing. Quail essentially need to burn 25 percent more energy to survive during extreme winter conditions. As an example, the temperature inside a high-quality shelterbelt - ideal cover from the cold - can be 5°F warmer.
Finally, the same wind that creates biting wind chills can also be a blessing, as it blows many farm fields free of snow and uncovers areas where quail can feed.
INDIRECT WEATHER EFFECTS
Hot dry summers can impede insect production, depriving chicks of the protein they need early in life. Drought conditions will stunt vegetation growth, reducing the amount of cover on the landscape and leaving birds vulnerable to winter storms. Precipitation is essential but too much or the wrong form at the wrong time can be the difference between a great and poor quail reproduction year.
IS THERE AN ANSWER FOR ADVERSE WEATHER?
Although weather conditions cannot be controlled, providing critical habitat elements (nesting cover, brood rearing cover, winter cover and food plots) when conditions are favorable is essential to helping quail populations rebound after a tough year. Known for their prolific nesting abilities, quail have been documented in some states to double their population in a given year provided seasonal weather is optimal for increased nesting success.