A geriatric population?

By December 5, 2018 Articles

Our quail are ancient in quail-terms; 80% of our fall trapping sample were adults.  Because we have leg-banded birds we can identify a large segment (37%) of “old” birds (>2.5 yrs old); 12% were geriatrics (>3.5 yrs old).  This old population likely contributes to (a) high eyeworm abundance (see October e-Quail), (b) lower survival, and, who knows, perhaps even “senility.”

November’s helicopter surveys provided no solace for the quail-weary.  Weather conditions were ideal for the count (clear skies, temp about 70 F, and light winds).  We tallied only 7 coveys (5 bobwhites, 2 blues) for a total of 100 individual birds; a bitter pill to swallow in that we counted 156 coveys 2 yrs ago (1,547 total birds).  That’s a decrease of 96% in coveys counted since 2016, and a decrease of 93% since last November. One covey of bobs and one covey of blues each had 15 birds, but most sightings were 3-7 birds.

Two things about the accompanying graph seem incredible:  (a) the 5-fold increase in quail from 2014 to 2015, and (b) the 15-fold decrease since last November.  Dr. Guthery often argued that a bobwhite population could do no more than double from one year to the next, yet our numbers defied that generality.  The implosion since last November seems as mathematically improbable.

We also counted 38 deer, 20 rabbits, 7 coyotes, and 1 bobcat; all of these I would consider “normal” for the respective species.

So, the upshot is no reproduction (over the past two years), coupled with poor survival, and a bloom in predators and parasites, which in toto exacted a heavy toll on our quail.  They proved they could rebound remarkably in 2015 . . . here’s hoping they can pull a rabbit out of their hat again.  The October rains provide some hope for next year in two ways:  (a) the filaree crop is outstanding, and that generally correlates well with good nesting effort next spring, and (b) fall rains should result in a good broomweed crop next summer for enhanced survival.

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