Last night during our evening walk, my 10-month-old German Shorthair pup found a brood of turkey and a brood of quail in the same field on my Osage County farm. The young turkey poults were big enough to fly, but the quail chicks just melted into the vegetation. Without my pup and his nose, I would have never known those birds were there.
Going back one year ago, floodwaters from record rainfall and the Corps of Engineers breach of the Mississippi River levee at Birdspoint were receding on several hundred thousand acres of the Missouri Bootheel. The epic flooding destroyed hundreds of turkey and other bird nests and drowned or starved adult quail and turkey who were unable to fly far enough to escape the floodwaters. During this same time many other parts of Missouri were experiencing above-average rainfall and cooler temperatures, which does not bode well for birds that nest on the ground.
Today, with the warm, dry spring, we see a different story unfolding. Not only am I seeing broods, but staff report seeing multiple broods of turkey in the Bootheel. While on a Bootheel county dove survey route in the same area, one of our staff members reported hearing more quail calling than ever before. Many landowners are also reporting that they are seeing or hearing more quail than usual.
One of my neighbors in Osage County called last weekend to report seeing his first brood of quail, which likely had recently hatched, as they were still unable to fly. While the peak hatch for quail is less than a month away, it is not unusual for early quail nest attempts such as this one. The hope for this Osage County brood was diminished after Monday night's torrential rain and large hail hit that farm. Those small chicks are not able to maintain their own body temperature yet, and if their mother could not keep them dry during the rain, they probably perished.
With the very mild winter and quick warm-up this spring, we may see nesting peak a few days earlier than normal. Our staff have radio-collared a number of wild quail on conservation areas in Southwest Missouri and have found quail initiating nests during the second week of May, so if the nests survived they should be hatching this week.
Hopefully, the mild weather continues and our ground-nesting birds see one of the best hatches in recent years. They deserve it. according to Dr. Pat Guinan, Missouri State climatologist, "Beginning in the early 1980s, an unprecedented wet period has evolved in Missouri. Since 1981, 18 out of 28 years (about 64 percent) had above normal precipitation and 16 out of the past 21 winters (about 76 percent) have been wetter than normal.” And the Department has shown that the population of ground-nesting birds declines during above-normal precipitation and extreme weather events.