Even after last week’s snowstorm, the quail are still alive and still under the shrub thickets shown in the photo from last week’s post. There are actually 10 birds within the photo frame, but most are hidden by the thick shrubbery along my lane.
After last week many of us wonder about the well-being of the critters of forest and field. Most of their food was buried in a huge snowstorm on Tuesday, that blew all over the place on Tuesday night and then we had the coldest nights of the winter on top of it. Most predators and raptors are affected because their biggest food source, mice and related animals are buried under the snow and difficult to get to. However, they evolved with a feast or famine eating habit and can probably tough out a few days with not much harm.
What about the songbirds? Some will succumb to the ravages of such a storm, especially if they were already weak or otherwise not healthy. Much of their food source is also buried, and this late in the winter a lot of the food up above the snow is pretty depleted or of very low quality. But our songbirds also evolved to handle at least brief episodes of such trauma. They are mobile and can search for food near and far. They have a crop which they can fill when they find an abundance of food and digest it later.
Now, let’s talk about quail. They have also evolved to make it through at least short spurts of this kind of weather. A shining example occurred in 2007.
The Department had radio collars on several quail at Davisdale Conservation Area near Boonville. A major snow event dumped 18 to 20 inches of snow at the end of November between Columbia and Boonville and it was followed by sub-zero temperatures for a few nights.
How many of our radio-collared quail died? Our staff thought they had all died.
They kept getting signals from an edge-feathering brush pile over the course of a couple of days, before the snow had started melting. Finally, thinking the birds had died, they went to the brushpile to retrieve the valuable collars to reuse. As they started to tear apart the brushpile to get to the dead birds, they were surprised when the birds flew out the other side of the brushpile!Those birds stayed in the brushpile for at least three days before they were flushed by our workers. There were no tracks in the snow to indicate that they had moved out of the brushpile since the snowstorm. This ability to hunker down and wait out the worst that the elements can throw at them serves the quail well. During that winter storm, we did not lose a one of the birds that we had radio collars on.
Davisdale is one of our quail emphasis areas where we have intensified management specifically for quail. The brush pile that those birds flushed from was put there specifically for quail. It takes habitat for the birds to survive what happened this week.
Like the quail at Davisdale, I had not seen my quail for about four days after Monday’s freezing rain. But Saturday after temperature climbed above freezing for the first time we saw the covey. I am sure they were buried in snow for a few daysin one of my many brushpiles on the farm just trying to survive the harsh conditions. Even though we had about 15 inches of snow in Osage County, the quail on my lane will survive, because they have the habitat. That gooseberry thicket protects them from most chances of a predator getting to them. They have a wildflower plot nearby with food sticking out above the snow that should sustain them through. In addition, I noticed they have really been working on a nearby privet shrub that is still loaded with berries, deeper in the woods are some winterberry that many birds are going to right now, too. If the habitat is there, they will survive to keep on going into the spring.