Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch

Knox Co. Blue Quail Restoration Effort update

by Becky Ruzicka

In the next three weeks we will be wrapping up our summer telemetry monitoring of translocated scaled quail on the Knox County study site. The primary pieces of information we gain from telemetry monitoring are hen survival and hen dispersal post release.

Hen Survival: This year’s survival doesn’t compare favorably to last year. At this time last year our hens were at 63% survival. Currently, 40% of the hens we released in April are still alive. We know from the published literature (and our own observations on RPQRR) that quail survival can fluctuate wildly between years. Published estimates of scaled quail survival during breeding season range from 22% to 80%. Unfortunately, it is difficult to pin point what is driving the decrease in survival. Most of the mortalities where we have been able to determine cause of death were attributed to raptors. That is similar to last year. I speculate that a drop off in the small mammals has caused predators to shift their prey preference and focus more on our quail.

Hen Dispersal: Recently, we were able to fly fixed wing surveys to look for some of our hens that went missing. We were missing 15 out of the 113 hens we released. We were able to find 8 of those birds alive (2 were dead) from the air and got on the ground locations for all but one live bird. Several of the birds that were missing made long distance treks up to 11 miles. Two of the hens crossed US Hwy 82—a busy highway!

We were able to keep up with most of the hens that we released this year, even prior to our flight, a little better than we were last year. Mostly because we are much familiar with the terrain because the hens have been moving more this year than last year. I don’t have data analyzed to compare yet, it’s just my observation. The only piece of data I have is that our farthest recorded dispersal distance last year was 5 miles compared to 11 miles this year. Incidentally, the longer movements could be contributing to survival. It will be interesting to look at daily survival probabilities as a function of dispersal distance in the future.


Getting a reliable count is among first issues in learning about the mysterious quail

by Ray Sasser

truck_releaseAfter a record 2016 quail season in the Rolling Plains of West Texas, bird hunters want to know what’s in store for 2017.

Bradley Kubecka thinks it will be about average. The Rolling Plains is the state’s most consistent quail region.

Kubecka bases his forecast on spring call counts. Male bobwhites use their namesake whistles to attract females. Researchers stop at predetermined listening posts on a route, counting the number of males calling.

Call counts this year were about the same as last year on the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch near Roby. RPQRR is 4,700 acres dedicated to quail research. Kubecka is a Flatonia graduate student working on his master’s degree from Texas A&M-Kingsville. His thesis will compare various methods of counting quail.

Continue Reading  Getting a reliable count is among first issues in learning about the mysterious quail


Nesting update from Knox County

by  Becky Ruzicka

Since Mid-May on the Knox County study site we have documented 47 nesting attempts by our translocated scaled quail hens. Of the 22 nests that have completed fates, 10 have successfully produced broods in the past two weeks and we should see several more hatch in the next two weeks (barring an increase in predation rate). This year we will be following broods closely to (hopefully) document brood survival. I say hopefully because there are a couple to barriers to being able to successfully calculate brood survival at the end of the summer: low detection of chicks and brood amalgamations. Imperfect detection of chicks is a given (i.e., every time you do a brood count you wouldn’t expect to see all the chicks). This can be accounted for by directly modeling detection as well as survival in a probability based model, but if detection is very low then we won’t be able collect enough information to run the model. For instance, this would be the case if we were to only observe on average one chick out of a 10 chick brood (i.e., the probability detection is 0.1) Brood amalgamations, or the grouping of unrelated chicks into a single brood, are also problematic. To be able to calculate brood survival in this framework we have to make the assumption that we are starting with a known number of chicks and that the number of chicks we started with will only decrease over time within a single brood due to mortality. Figuring out how many chicks should be in a given brood is as simple as examining the eggshell evidence remaining in the nest bowl, but if unrelated chicks are added to the brood we will arrive at an artificially high brood survival estimate. It is always a good idea to understand the assumptions and potential biases before heading out into the field to collect the data, so that you can be vigilant for potential violations and know where to focus your effort. If we are successful in documented brood survival this year, it would be an important piece of the overall puzzle of translocated scaled quail population dynamics. In fact, it is one of the least understood vital rates for any population for any species.


Who’s got the blues?

by Becky Ruzicka, Ph.D. candidate, Colorado State University

bluereleaseOn April 19th, we began releasing translocated scaled quail at our Knox County study site and will continue releasing through May 1st.  The birds we are releasing have been held on site from 1 to 9 weeks as part of our “soft release” treatments. We trapped a total of 525 scaled quail this year, bringing our two-year total to 913. As the summer progresses, we will be monitoring survival, reproduction, and dispersal of 113 radio-marked hens translocated this year to build on our dataset of 98 radio-marked hens from last year. This is without question the largest scaled quail translocation effort ever.  Thanks to our “quail donors” who continue to share their quail with others less fortunate.

One of the reasons we chose to translocate so many quail is that our study site is also very large – approximately 75,000 acres.  The two release sites are focused in the middle of the larger study area and on opposite ends of the South Fork Wichita River Drainage (see map).  All of the quail translocated were released from these two locations. We can monitor the spread of newly released individuals in the short-term using radio-telemetry. Last year, we documented scaled quail dispersing, surviving, and nesting over 35,000 acres. There is no substitute for radio-marking birds when the objective is to gather precise data on vital rates and individual movements. However, radio-marking and monitoring is incredibly work intensive and expensive. To document the long-term spread of the population within the drainage, we to need to employ a method that is less intensive but more easily applied to a large area. Consequently, we are complementing our radio-telemetry dataset with multi-year occupancy surveys.

blue_mapOccupancy analyses utilize a simple dataset, presence/absence over multiple visits to a single site over multiple years, to draw inference on where animals occur on the landscape and what the probability of detecting them is during a single visit to a site. Occupancy is well suited as a long-term monitoring option for this project because our release site is large and there were few scaled quail on site prior to release (we confirmed this during last year’s occupancy survey). We completed this year’s occupancy survey in April. In short, the survey didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know from our telemetry efforts, but the 2016 and 2017 surveys provide crucial baseline data going forward. Scaled quail occupy approximately 10% more of the study area than last year. We detected almost all the known coveys (missed one covey that we know of) during the course of the survey. This confirms the usefulness of the technique going forward into years where we will not have radio-collared birds and lends credence to our pre-release estimate of occupancy that was less than 1%.

This month we will be diving head-first into our telemetry monitoring efforts and looking forward to bringing on two new technicians to assist with these efforts. In addition to hen survival and nest survival, we will be testing a new technique for brood monitoring in scaled quail. I also wanted to recognize and express my gratitude for our volunteers from the Rolling Plains Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists who helped with occupancy surveys: Larry Snyder, Judy Snyder, Lynn Seman, and Kay Murphy. These surveys are no ‘walk in the park’ and we surely needed the assistance!  This research is sponsored by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service’s Reversing the Decline of Quail Initiative, TPWD’s Upland Game Bird Stamp fund, along with contributions from private landowners, quail hunters, and several chapters of Quail Coalition (Big Covey, Cross Timbers, and Park Cities chapters).


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




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