Manager’s Minute – Supplemental Water

by Daniel King

As temperatures in the Rolling Plains climb into the triple digits, this month’s Manager’s Minute is about supplemental water. Given the correlation of quail production and rainfall, one may come to the conclusion that quail need a large amount of water to survive or reproduce. While quail do need water to survive, and those needs are greater in times of reproduction, quail are able to meet their water requirements almost exclusively through their diet. That said, quail tend to select for areas where supplemental water is provided. Oddly enough, researchers have yet to unequivocally relate changes in wild quail demographics to the presence or absence of supplemental water. The correlation between rainfall and quail production tends to be related to the cooler weather associated with a wet year, longer nesting seasons, greater nest initiation rates, and greater survival (of both adults and chicks) owed to the concealment from vegetation.

If you are anywhere west of Abilene, you might be hard-pressed to “hurt” anything by adding water to your land in any form (we will cover some exceptions to that statement in a future topic). Given the equivocal results on the effects of providing supplemental water for benefiting quail survival and reproduction, we do not recommend it as a primary approach to bolstering populations. However, if all other boxes have been checked (habitat-wise), and providing water is a desired supplementary practice, we recommend providing water at ground level rather than in any type of reservoir or tank.

At RPQRR we maintain a system of concrete and fiberglass livestock troughs and tubs across the property. Some of their utility is for quail, but bird dogs benefit also! We set these tubs to allow water to trickle over the edge onto the ground. This creates a microhabitat next to each tub that produces significantly more herbaceous cover, more “greens”, more insects, and maintains a cooler temperature in the heat of summer. In addition, keeping the tubs full to the brim prevents quail from falling in and drowning while trying to get a drink. Placing rocks or boards within troughs is recommended to allow an escape route if wildlife do fall in while drinking. Placement of water sources near protective cover is also recommended. Below is a link to one of our webisodes that discusses this practice further.