Land Stewardship
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Land Stewardship

Potential Predators Associated with Northern Bobwhite Nesting

This story was originally published at wild-wonderings.blogspot.com in June 2014. For the most up-to-date information, please visit our website at nri.tamu.edu.

Everybody has a quail recipe whether they sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss them on the grill or wrap them in bacon and slather them in barbeque sauce; some recipes are a little more conservative with no spice, leaving the bird completely raw. The short lived bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) have an entire flock of predators. Striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), raccoons (Procyon lotor), opossums (Didelphis virginianus), accipiters (Accipiter spp.), feral hogs (Sus scrofa), coyotes (Canis latrans) and northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) are just a few predators that prey on quail in some way (Rollins and Carroll, 2001). Due to high mortality rates from factors including predation, bobwhites have an average lifespan of only six months (Hernández and Peterson, 2007).

Typically bobwhites are part of a covey allowing the birds to watch out for each other, but during nesting season, quail break away from covey activity to breed allowing predators more opportunities to catch a meal through direct predation on unaware adults and nesting hens. From the months of June-August, occasionally earlier or later depending on weather and geographic location, bobwhite quail begin nesting. Studies suggest that depredation can account for 55% to 84% of unsuccessful nests (Hernández and Peterson, 2007). Unsuspecting bobwhite parents can be easily plucked from their nests and made into a snack by predators including coyotes and raptors. Studies using dummy nests with chicken eggs determined that raccoons depredate nests leaving egg fragments from biting into one end of the egg after the eggs have been carried a few meters away from the nest, and skunks leave fragments very near the nest (Hernandez, Rollins, and Cantu, 1997). Snakes, including rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp.) and rat snakes (Elaphus spp.), have been documented eating both eggs and adult quail whole with no evidence left behind except radio collars left in scat (Rollins and Carroll, 2001). To evaluate the abundance of different predator species in a certain location, scent stations and dummy nests can be constructed which can be great experiments for kids and adults alike!

While these predators can also gobble up chicks, concerns involving red imported fire ants on the health of chicks are increasing. Studies have shown that red imported fire ants pose several health threats to chicks. According to Hernández and Peterson (2007), nonlethal stings impact chick survival by occupying the chicks’ time reacting to the insects’ activities, which takes time from important life functions like feeding, thermoregulation, and avoiding predators.

Don’t get ruffled by depredation and high mortality rates of bobwhites. Double brooding and re-nesting by bobwhites leads to a high number of offspring (if the conditions are right) which counteracts the high mortality rate during the nesting and brood-reading stages of life (Hernández and Peterson, 2007). Predator control may be impractical on a large scale for many landowners due to expense and lack of results, so be sure to have a good plan of attack and evaluate your results from dummy nests and camera trapping data (prodcedures found in Texas Quail Index Handbook).

As a landmanager, the greatest benefit you can make for quail is to have good habitat that provides food and cover; a variety of management practices can be implemented to benefit quail and associated species such as the Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum). An abundance of bunchgrasses, forbs or shrubs for nesting cover and plenty of insects and seeds are beneficial to help improve bobwhite survival (Hernández and Peterson, 2007). Management can differ from habitat and ecoregion; in order to best mange the land in your area, you can contact your local county Extension agent for more information. Publications on how to further get involved and make a difference including Habitat Monitoring for Quail on Texas Rangelands can be found on the AgriLife Bookstore with supplementing videos on the WFSC Agrilife YouTube page’s quail playlist.

This article was developed through the Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative funded by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department through Upland Game Bird Stamp funds.

Works Cited

  1. Hernández, F., M. J. Peterson. 2007. Northern Bobwhite Ecology and Life History. Pages 41-64. Brennan, L. A., editor. 2007. Texas Quails Ecology and Management. Texas AandM University Press, College Station, USA.
  2. Rollins, D., and J. P. Carroll. 2001. Impacts of Predation on Northern Bobwhite and Scaled Quail. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29: 39–51.
  3. Hernández, F., D. Rollins and R. Cantu. 1997. Evaluating Evidence to Identify Ground-Nest Predators in West Texas. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25: 826–861.

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Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

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At the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, our work improves the conservation and management of natural resources through applied research. nri.tamu.edu