Quail in Texas: Forecast 2012-2013
Statewide surveys were initiated in 1978 to monitor quail populations. This index uses randomly selected, 20-mile roadside survey lines to determine annual quail population trends by ecological region. This trend information helps determine relative quail populations among the regions of Texas. Comparisons can be made between the mean (average) number of quail observed per route this year and the long term mean (LTM) for quail seen within an ecological region. The quail survey was not designed to predict relative abundance for any area smaller than the ecological region.
Bobwhite quail hunting can be hit or miss in Texas considering these birds exist here on the very western edge of their distribution in the U.S. There are still vast expanses of suitable bobwhite habitat in the rangelands of South Texas and in the Rolling Plains, where in some years over a hundred thousand hunters flock to pursue these wary game birds. Bobs are limited in these regions by rainfall, more specifically the lack thereof.
Carryover From Last Season
There was very limited production in the spring and summer of 2011 as Texas endured “Extraordinary” drought conditions. Many ranches opted not to hunt last season in hopes to aid recovery. The 2011 season was well below average in most regions with some new record lows in the survey. For these reasons the quail population was sparse heading into the breeding season. But most of the core Texas quail hunting regions did in fact receive rainfall in the spring of 2012 which resulted in a flush of new vegetation and insects. We received numerous field reports of calling males even in areas where quail were thought to be absent. Looking forward, climatologists report the beginning of an El Niño year that could mean a wet winter and spring. This scenario could significantly improve rangeland conditions and lead to greater quail densities in 2013.
Quail Survey Data in Major Ecological Regions
For quail survey data on a region, click its name in the list below.
Gould Ecological Regions
- Gulf Prairies and Marshes (Bobwhite Quail)
- Post Oak Savanna
- Blackland Prairies
- Cross Timbers and Prairies (Bobwhite Quail)
- South Texas Plains (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- Edwards Plateau (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- Rolling Plains (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- High Plains (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- Trans Pecos, Mountains and Basins (Scaled Quail)
The spring rains resulted in a “green up” of much of the Rolling Plains, triggering calling activity and a high volume of insects. However, the window of opportunity was narrow for breeding pairs as triple digit summer temperatures quickly browned the landscape. Even though the rains helped rangelands recover to a certain degree, the two-year-old bunch grasses quail prefer for nesting were hard to find. We received many reports of broods early in the summer but there was little to no mid or late season production. We expect to see a high juvenile to adult ratio this fall as the quail population struggles to recover.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 3.52 compared to 5.32 last year. This is well below the LTM of 20.5 and is a new record low. Despite low counts, pockets of quail remain in areas with residual cover that received timely rainfall. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and at the Matador WMA.
South Texas Plains
Despite continued drought conditions, the majority of South Texas received enough spring rainfall to initiate quail calling and breeding behavior. Similar to the Rolling Plains, the landscape quickly dried up with the onset of high summer temperatures. Female quail did not have much time to re-nest if their initial attempt failed. But many were successful according to field reports of broods across the region. Those counties nearest to the coast have the benefit of early morning ground moisture and bobwhites may have fared better in these areas. Our surveys indicate little change in population compared to last year and still below average across the region. The best opportunities will be on well managed sites with good nesting cover.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 7.9 compared to 8.0 last year. This is well below the LTM of 17.9 and is predictive of a below average hunting season. The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities.
Much of the Trans-Pecos ecological region remains in drought but summer rains did offer some relief. Overall, field reports indicate limited scaled quail production with the most likely reproductive efforts occurring mid to late in the summer after scattered rainfall events.
The average number of scaled quail observed per route was identical to last year at 6.3 birds. This is below the LTM of 16.1. Public hunter opportunities can be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas.
Our surveys indicate that bobwhite numbers are close to average in the Gulf Prairies where 8.0 bobwhites were observed per route compared to 19.4 last year. This is just below the LTM of 10.3. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.
The Cross Timbers and Edwards Plateau continue to report numbers well below their respective LTMs. Although there are certainly areas within each region where some quail hunting opportunity remains, this survey is not designed to detect changes in localized populations, especially in fragmented landscapes.