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Quail numbers at all-time low

Photo by L. Dillon

Each year the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation conducts roadside quail surveys in August and October to measure population indices and make a season forecast. The results of the August survey are now available. Rather than lead you down the road with a lot of numbers and statistics, we’ll just give you the the bottom line first.  Bobwhite quail numbers in Oklahoma are at an all-time low.

The 2012 August roadside quail survey show that the statewide quail index is down 78 percent from the 22 year average and the statewide index is down 7% from the abysmally low 2011 August index.  The number of broods observed during the August survey decreased from 14 in 2011 to 11 in 2012. Of the broods observed during the August survey, nearly 100% were either full or ¾ grown compared to 64% during last year’s survey.

For most of my life my passion was quail hunting.  I was involved in quail conservation and kept up with the research for years as well as spending a lot of time in the field and visiting with landowners.  I’m familiar with all the dogma and research and I’m the first to admit, I don’t have a clue what has happened to bobwhites in Oklahoma.  The general thought was that habitat controlled populations in the long term and weather in the short term.  I used to hunt a hundred-thousand acre spread that is as close to native Oklahoma prairie as you’ll find and just ten years ago it held good numbers of quail, but almost none now. So much for habitat theory.

It hasn’t been that many years ago that I would peruse the ODWC surveys and those in the Rolling Plains of Texas to select an area to concentrate on for the coming season.  My benchmark was a county or area that had 20+ birds per route, and that was usually possible.  This latest statewide survey indicates a paltry 1.4 birds per 20-mile route.  I hate to be a pessimist, but from the perspective of a guy who hunted bobwhites for over 50 years, it seems that the bobwhite is going the way of the prairie chicken and most Oklahomans are unaware and don’t give a damn anyway.  After all bobwhites are just a secretive little bird that almost no one hunts anymore.

Most wildlife conservation is driven by hunters and the dollars they and hunting generate.  Therein lies a problem with quail and their downward spiral.  As quail numbers diminish, so does the number of hunters and conservation efforts.  I’m afraid we are in the final chapters of a prairie tragedy.

About the saddest thing I can imagine is an Oklahoma morning without a bobwhite’s whistle.

To see the complete ODWC 2012 August Roadside Survey http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/quail/2012AugustRoadsideQuail.pdf

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One comment on “Quail numbers at all-time low

  1. Quail Forever just published the 2012 Quail Forecast on their website. Oklahoma’s politically sanitized forecast is an interesting spin. http://quailforever.org/page/1/2012okforecast.jsp

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