Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch

Observations on Quail Crops

crops I’m referring to the anatomical structure, not abundance. A quail’s crop is simply an expansion of the esophagus—it functions as a “zip-loc bag” for seed storage thus affording quail an “eat and run” lifestyle. The longer a quail spends in more open areas, the more vulnerable it is to raptors. With a crop, a quail can eat hurriedly, then retreat to the relative security of a brush thicket as the seeds (and other foods) move through the bird’s digestive tract.

Whenever my dog retrieves a quail, the first thing I do is palpate (“feel”) the crop. Is it full, partially full, or mostly empty? Then, when it comes time to clean the birds, I dissect any “good sized” crops to see what the daily diet consisted of. Inquiring minds want to know.

meltonThus far I’ve found mostly empty crops, unless the birds had access to supplemental feed (i.e., milo). So, what does the paucity of crop contents mean? Are we on the verge of a “crop failure?” Not necessarily. I attribute the low volume of foods primarily to (a) unseasonably warm temperatures, and (b) a late killing frost (which impacts when broomweed and western ragweed drop their seeds). Birds I’ve looked at thus far have been consuming more greens than I typically expect this early in the season.

As you do your own crop analyses, I’ll wager you’ll discover three things: (a) birds will be feeding much more in late-afternoon than during the morning, (b) birds taken the day after the cold front blows through will have fuller crops than those taken the day of the cold front, and (c) if you have both bobwhites and blue quail, the blues will always have 2-4X more seed volume than bobwhites will, regardless of the time of day you shoot them.

As you come across seeds you can’t identify, take a close-up photo of the crop contents spread out on a paper plate (an iPhone does a nice job) and e-mail it to me at If I don’t know them, I’ll share with my network of “Students of Quail.”

crops_2As a reminder, RPQRR is soliciting crop contents of quail harvested across the Rolling Plains (TX & OK) in an attempt to compile a comprehensive seed collection of plants eaten by quail. As you clean birds at the end of the day’s hunt, dissect out the crop and empty the contents into an empty shotgun shell box so they will dry out, then tape the seams with duct tape. Do not put them in a plastic bag as they will mold. At the completion of your season send the box and contents to RPQRR, P.O. Box 220, Roby, TX. The crop content analysis from these samples will constitute our “Seed Appreciation Day” next May.

RPQRR’s Wish List – Can you help?

Our support for quail research comes almost exclusively from private donors.  Perhaps you would like to help us help quail.  We have need for various pieces of equipment.  If you would like to donate, RPQRR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, so your donations (cash or in-kind) are tax-deductible.  Here’s our current list of needs:

Item Need
¾ ton pickup truck Pulling trailers, carrying pumper unit for prescribed burns
100-hp tractor Food plot preparation, shredding
15’ batwing shredder Shredding
Grain cart Bulk purchase/storage of milo
Sea container Storage of equipment

Weird Quail Watch

On the verge of what many hope will be a record season, I ask that you keep your eyes open for any “weird” quail.  “Weird” could include odd plumage, hybrids of bobs and blues, or diseased birds.  As you clean your birds always be mindful of birds that are “noticeably” light in weight, or have livers that are discolored (think pickle-loaf).  Keep your camera handy for any plumage abnormalities, and a ziploc bag handy if you find any potentially-diseased quail.  Either way, please contact me ( or call my cell @ 325-650-0311) if anything catches your attention.  Inquiring minds want to know.

Determining Optimal Levels of Brush Cover for Northern Bobwhite in the Rolling Plains by Brad Kubecka, Graduate Research Assistant

Landscapes that support high densities of northern bobwhite consist of an interspersed mixture of woody and herbaceous cover. Maximum bobwhite densities may be achieved within some range of these cover types, a concept known as “slack.” Thus, landscapes with 10% vs. 40% brush cover could potentially support comparable densities of bobwhites. Recent research in South Texas suggest that landscapes with greater amounts of brush express less variation in the relative abundance of bobwhites during wet and dry years (Parent et al. 2016). In other words, woody cover seemed to cushion bobwhite populations during drought years and/or suppress expansion during wet years. Our objective is to examine associations of bobwhite abundance, woody cover metrics, and precipitation in the Rolling Plains of Texas.

Our study is being conducted on the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch (RPQRR) in Fisher County, TX using trapping data (n = 296 traps) collected from November 2008 to March 2017. We feel our intensive trapping database will provide a more in-depth approach than previous studies that have used spring cock call counts as a gauge of landscape configurations and bobwhite abundance. We will calculate relative abundance at each trap site (no. of unique individuals trapped) and quantify woody patch metrics surrounding trap sites (within the buffer of bobwhite’s home range at RPQRR) using satellite technology. Precipitation data will be obtained from on-site weather stations. Our goal then is to determine the influence of woody cover, precipitation, and their interaction on bobwhite relative abundance. Our expected results will provide land managers with an estimate of optimal woody cover and configuration for high densities of bobwhites in the Rolling Plains for both wet and dry years.

Let’s do a quick demonstration. Consider the photos to the right where green represents woody cover and the plot size represents 40 acres (400m x 400m). At this scale, woody cover in all plots is within average flight distance of a bobwhite in the Rolling Plains. Which of the photos has more brush? Which has more edge? Does it matter? Which landscape would consistently hold more bobwhites? During dry years, will areas with fewer, but larger mottes of woody cover sustain higher bobwhite densities? Bobwhite managers often spend much money “sculpting” such patterns (e.g., mottes, strips) on large scales. Through our satellite technology and trapping data, we hope to answer these questions and “tighten” our range of accepted slack. (All photos are drawn to scale and have equal amounts of woody cover. Total woody edge for the strip patterns is 64 units, mottes 15, and sculpted is 51.)

Scaled Quail Restoration to Historic Ranges in the Rolling Plains: Project Update by Becky Ruzicka, Ph.D. candidate

bluequailWe wrapped up the most intensive part of our monitoring for the year during August on the Knox County translocation site. Since April we have been monitoring our radio-collared hens daily, collecting information on their survival status (i.e. live or dead), movements, and nesting activity. From this point forward we will transition to a bi-monthly monitoring schedule. This will allow us to continue to monitor survival and movement through the fall, albeit at a courser scale. We also plan to conduct trapping to band juveniles, take feather samples for genetic analysis, and potentially document abundance on the two release sites (if our capture rates are high enough).

As it stands now, our survival is at 60% for breeding season. If you were really paying attention, you’d notice this survival percentage is slightly greater than the one I reported in last month’s e-Quail (no, there aren’t birds back from the dead!). We were actually able to locate some of the birds that had been missing and found that they were still alive, thus a slight increase in our total survival as they were added back into the sample. Our farthest recorded dispersers travelled a distance of 5 miles, however most (~70%) stayed within one mile of their release site. Overall, the birds have spread out over an area of approximately 35,000 acres. A formal analysis of these data will be forthcoming in which I will evaluate survival and dispersal as a function of our soft-release and ecoregion source treatments.

Although we are still in the beginning stages of this project, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the large number of individuals and organizations that have contributed money and resources thus far. I would especially like to thank my field crew: research assistant Drew White, technician Carolin Tappe, and intern Bekah Mullen. Starting in February of this year these ladies have been instrumental in trapping and translocating 388 quail, conducting an occupancy survey over 100,000 acres, and amassing a database of over 4,000 unique observations on our radio-collared birds. Well done!

A New Way to Look at Quail Habitat

mapIt’s called “density gradient modeling.” Think of it as a radar image depicting thunderstorm intensity. In this case being “in the red” is a good thing. Recently John Edwards, a PhD student at Texas A&M University-Kingsville conducted helicopter counts at RPQRR and 3 other area ranches to construct maps illustrating the spatial distribution of bobwhites across the property. The counts at RPQRR are part of a CKWRI research project studying the effects of habitat, climate, and raptors as factors in the quail decline. The map depicted here is a density-gradient map, which uses the covey-detection information provided from the survey such as covey size and location plus additional habitat variables to create a map of bobwhite density across the property. This allows us to evaluate bobwhite density spatially across the landscape. RPQRR’s Brad Kubecka, who is currently pursuing his MS degree at TAMU-K under Dr. Hernandez and me, will be analyzing similar data to better understand how habitat factors (e.g., brush density) affects such density-gradients over the course of the past seven years. Stay tuned; neat stuff.

Operation Idiopathic Decline: Search for the Smoking Gun

The role that disease and parasites may play in quail dynamics has been largely ignored since the 1920s. After the (in our opinion) inexplicable decline of quail in the Rolling Plains, the Board of RPQRF “got serious” about disease and funded a comprehensive project dubbed “Operation Idiopathic Decline.” Currently (as of Feb 2014), the RPQRF has invested $3.4 million into this ground-breaking study of disease and parasites. This webisode explains OID in more depth.

Team Quail AgriLife Research AgriLife Extension Ceasar Klemerg Wildlife Research Park Cities Quail Unlimited

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