It's well known that northern bobwhites are resilient and innovative when it comes to replenishing their numbers. In addition to hens nesting two and often three times in a single season, male bobwhites also will sit on a nest and raise a brood of their own. Hens that successfully raise a brood early in the season will regularly try to re-nest and raise another.
Moreover, hens with chicks are known to abandon their brood to another adult once the chicks reach 20 to 30 days of age and re-nest while conditions may still be favorable. All of these strategies help quail populations overcome high nest predation rates and predation rates in general. But what can landowners do, if anything, to help tilt the balance of nest predation in the bobwhite's favor?
Studies throughout the United States have looked into quail nest predation, and the results are fairly consistent. While snakes and some bird species are among the culprits, mammals consistently are the top nest predators. Striped skunks, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, armadillos, feral hogs and rodents have all been documented as predators of quail nests to some degree. Successful hatch rates of nesting quail can vary from 12 percent to 50 percent, with predators accounting for more than 80 percent of the losses.
While the specific numbers can vary depending on location, striped skunks, raccoons and opossums consistently rank high among quail nest predators. In certain locations, armadillos and feral hogs can affect the nests of ground-nesting birds, but research is limited to classify them as significant nest predators across the entirety of the bobwhite's range.
Fortunately, there are things that land managers and hunters can do to help minimize the loss of quail nests as well as other ground-nesting birds. Table 1 has a list of common problems affecting the bobwhite quail today with regard to nesting, and offers solutions for landowners and hunters to consider when making management decisions.
For more information about improving habitat for quail, call Scott Cox, senior upland game biologist, at (405) 301-9945; Kyle Johnson, quail restoration biologist, at (405) 684-1929; Doug Schoeling, private lands biologist for western Oklahoma, at (405) 590-2584; or RosaLee Walker, private lands biologist for eastern Oklahoma, at (918) 607-1518.
For more information about quail and their habitat needs in Oklahoma, check out the Oklahoma Quail Habitat Guide issue of "Outdoor Oklahoma"magazine (May/June 2013) as well as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website at wildlifedepartment.com.
Northern bobwhites are highly susceptible to nest predation, but landowners can adopt practices to help protect quail nests. (wildlifedepartment.com)