OK quail numbers down 71% from 11-year average


Mar 11, 2001
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Quail populations tumble with hard winter, summer

By Kelly Kurt, Associated Press Writer

TULSA, Okla. - An icy winter followed by a hot, dry summer appears to have plunged Oklahoma's quail population to its lowest count in more than a decade. But biologists find a longer, gradual decline more troubling.
The bobwhite quail is the state's most popular game bird, and the hunting season starts Thursday.

Roadside surveys by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation estimate a 71 percent drop in the quail population from the 11-year average. The northeast and south-central regions show the largest decreases.

Many birds didn't survive a winter of heavy snow and ice, said Mike Sams, an upland game biologist with the state agency. The broiling summer inhibited reproduction, he said Monday.

Because quail populations can fluctuate wildly year to year, however, the decline is "of concern, but not particularly alarming," he said.

"What is of more concern is we are seeing some downward trends in the quail population over the past 10 years," Sams said.

Quail population surveys have shown a slight decline in populations since 1966. But in the past decade, the decrease has averaged about 5 percent a year, Sams said. That takes into account years like 2000 when the population jumped 98 percent over the previous year.

The decline comes primarily in the eastern two-thirds of the state. West of Enid, the quail population "remains stable and it's basically some of the best quail hunting in the country," Sams said.

Biologists blame a loss of habitat for the gradual decline.

The birds, found in groups of 12 to 15 called coveys, thrive on weed seeds. But if the vegetation is too thick they can't move about on the ground. Some of the plants they eat also require routine disturbances, such as prairie fires.

Urbanization, the replacement of native grasses with introduced species, too little prescribed burning or too much burning, and an explosion of red cedar trees all contribute to habitat decline, especially east of Interstate-35, biologists say.

"If you drive between Stillwater and Tulsa, what you see is just a little patch of good habitat here and a little good habitat there," said Fred Guthery, a quail specialist and Oklahoma State University Bollenbach chair of wildlife ecology.

Oklahoma is considered one of the best quail hunting states in the nation and more than 60,000 hunters pursue the birds each fall, wildlife officials report. The season runs through the end of January.

Hunters are likely to find isolated pockets with good numbers of birds, despite the decline in the statewide count, Sams said. There are no restrictions on the hunting season despite the decline.

"Quail hunting is kind of self regulating," he said, quoting studies that show "if you go out hunting three or four times and don't find many quail, you quit going."

In response to the downward trend, quail experts across the state formed the Oklahoma Quail Initiative this year to develop a plan to restore quail numbers.

Sams sees a need for more education and incentives for landowners to manage for quail, leaving native grasses intact and performing prescribed burns correctly.

"The research is overwhelming," he said. "Populations cannot increase if they can't disperse into quality habitat."


Mar 11, 2001
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Quail numbers dismally low.

OK Sportsmens Coalition


OKLA. CITY -- After quietly posting an alarming August roadside quail survey to the ODWC website with no press release nor comment, the Wildlife Department has issued a news release on the October Roadside Quail Count survey that backs up the August count and indicates quail populations have declined dramatically across the state.

OSC editor Lindell Dillon addressed the lack of reporting by ODWC on the record low August count in the October issue of Magnum Outdoor News, Oklahoma’s newest and highest circulation outdoors publication. In an article titled "Where is the quail effort," Dillon, conservation and news editor of the magazine, raised concerns about the lack of quail efforts in the state by ODWC and Quail Unlimited.

Dillon pointed to the almost total lack of quail conservation effort by ODWC since upland biologist Steve De Maso left in January of 2000. Last year’s harvest figures have not been tabulated and the annual progress reports from the Packsaddle Chick Ecology Study have not been written and published for the past two summers. In fact the data remains unanalyzed.

The article also pointed to a little known fact that money provided by Oklahoma license buyers was used by ODWC to fund about half of the salary of Quail Unlimited representative Mike Newell, a former Wildlife Department employee. Newell was provided a new Chevy Suburban and paid a salary for a year before he was recently terminated for poor job performance. During that year, he was largely unsupervised, unproductive in fund raising and failed to produce any statewide event or educational program to promote quail conservation. In fact, he was often out of state working on celebrity hunts and sporting clays tournaments according to Oklahoma QU members.

The recent ODWC news release reports that biologists conducting the October survey recorded the smallest numbers of quail they have seen since the survey began in 1990. The 2001 roadside surveys showed numbers were down 71 percent from the previous 11-year average. Biologists believe harsh winter weather, followed by a hot and dry summer, limited breeding populations and hampered recruitment.

"Numbers were down across the state after prolonged periods of ice and snow last year," said Mike Sams, upland game bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The birds often bounce back with a good reproductive year, but the heat and drought hurt reproduction this year. Despite the apparent decline in 'statewide' numbers, we do expect hunters to find isolated pockets with good numbers of birds.

"The surveys are only an index to provide the Department a population estimate. Still, they have given a reliable indication of harvest in the past."

At least ODWC has finally taken a step in the right direction to address declining quail numbers. In response to a downward trend in numbers, quail experts from across the state are joining together to address concerns through a long-term management plan.

According the ODWC news release, the "Oklahoma Quail Initiative" was devised by a committee made up of several different agencies and conservation groups. The committee members are from the Wildlife Department, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Oklahoma State University, OSU Extension Service, the Noble Foundation and Quail Unlimited.

Sams was quoted in the weekly Wildlife Department press release: "We wanted to assemble the best and brightest quail minds to develop a plan of action to head off the quail decline and to restore quail numbers to a more appropriate level," Sams said. "We have some of the top respected quail experts in the nation right here in Oklahoma, and we are going to focus their knowledge and experience to guide the initiative in the right direction."

However, when OSC editor and past chairman of the Oklahoma Council of Quail Unlimited Lindell Dillon called Sams and asked to represent the Sportsmen’s Coalition on the Iniative, he was told it was for "professionals" only. Ironically, it was Dillon who presented the idea of an Oklahoma quail initiative in written form to ODWC Director Duffy and Commissioners Groendyke, Stonecipher, and Crawford a couple of years ago. It’s disappointing and alarming that those in control of the Wildlife Department can’t see 50,000 sportsmen as an ally in the battle to save bobwhites.

Unfortunately, those who don’t "go along," don’t "get along" with Duffy and his cronies. Most every state agency except the Wildlife Department is routinely scrutinized by the press. It seems Oklahoma newspapers relegate outdoor issues to back-page status and assign them to reporters with no experience in reporting news events. It’s the job of outdoor journalists to report on issues and news, but there is a void of any real reporting in Oklahoma, resulting in a lack of information regarding a wildlife agency that is in shambles and that has not learned to deal with the transparency that is required of public agencies.

The goal of the Oklahoma Quail Initiative is to make a difference in quail populations statewide, Sams added. That is a lofty goal, especially since Oklahoma is so diverse. The state has more eco-regions than nearly any other state. That means lots of different habitats and lots of different management strategies to consider.

All the experts agree that in order to increase quail populations across the state there has to be a restoration of natural habitats. The loss of quality habitat throughout the bobwhite's traditional range in the southeastern U.S. is considered to be the cause of drastic declines in states to the east of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Recent years have seen declines in quail populations in these western tier states, but at a much lesser rate than to the east where habitat degradation has been more severe.

"Habitat is the key," added Sams. "If the components of habitat - food, water and cover are abundant, then Mother Nature will take care of the rest. Quality habitat will also help decrease the affects of weather and predation on quail populations.

"The research is overwhelming. Populations cannot increase if they can't disperse into quality habitat. Stocking captive raised birds does not help either. You have to have good habitat before you can have quail."

Sam’s remark that "…food, water and cover" make up good quail habitat is indicative of endemic problems within ODWC. Comments like this are the result of selecting a deer biologist over those with backgrounds in quail research to fill the upland game biologist position. Real quail experts will tell you that food and water are seldom limiting factors of bobwhite quail populations. Pastures that aren’t over-grazed and provide lots of year-old clumps of prairie grasses for nesting are a lot more important than food and water to quail populations. Unfortunately, most public agencies lack the courage to tell ranchers that over-grazing and conversion of rangeland non-native grasses are the major causes of the quail decline. Of course we ought to mention conversion of rangeland to cultivation and urban sprawl as well; there is plenty of blame to go around for Mr. Bob’s demise. Still, it’s discouraging that unfounded quotes like this appear in ODWC releases and provide fuzzy information to the public.

One problem facing biologists is that for habitat restoration to be effective in the long term, large tracts of habitat must be restored. Research shows that restoration of small, separated acreages has little effect on quail populations. If you can tie these small tracts together into tracts of thousands of acres, then you stand a good chance of substantially increasing populations.

In the end, if bobwhite numbers are to be restored in Oklahoma, it won’t be the Wildlife Department or Quail Unlimited who are responsible. Instead, it will be private landowners who open their minds and change their land use practices just a little bit. The Wildlife Department, as well as other state agencies and institutions, and QU must play a more pro-active role in educating landowners and building consensus with sportsmen’s and conservation groups to devise a long-term management plan with measured progress. To do this they are going to need the help of everyone, including us "non-professionals" who pay their salaries.


Well-known member
Oct 18, 2001
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I hope the land owners and the state get together and hunters if need be to work the problem out, I dont hunt in that state not yet anyways but I'd hate to see any state go thru having there hunting game in trouble.:mad-fumin-red::

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