Quail Unlimited Private Land Radio Collar Project
Bill White, Private Land Program Supervisor, Jefferson City, Mo.
In 2008, the Missouri Department of Conservation teamed up with Quail Unlimited to conduct a radio-collar project on three private land sites in central and western Missouri. Funding for the project was provided by Quail Unlimited. Radio receivers and antenna were provided by MDC. Quail were captured in areas where Farm Bill conservation program practices were installed in an attempt to observe quail use of those practices. After capture, birds were located by radio receiver at least one time per week.
The Andrew County study site is a 160-acre native warm-season grass CRP planting managed specifically for quail with food plots, prescribed burning, shrub plantings and light disking. There were nine known coveys on the farm, and 11 birds were radio-collared from this site. Several birds had hatched in mid-September. The first birds were trapped in October 2008. Radio tracking is being conducted by volunteer students from Missouri Western State University. Observations from the site include:
•All birds were trapped in plum thickets even though traps were located in grass cover and edge feathering.
•No useable shrubby cover is present in the majority of the field, especially in the center. During the winter observations, birds were only observed in association with woody cover along the perimeter of the site and bare ground. Birds did not use the center of the field and at any time were found within 50 yards of woody cover. The map below is a great example of how one collared quail stayed close to woody cover throughout most of the winter.
•Birds frequently exchanged between coveys during the winter months.
•In one observation instance birds moved on foot ahead of the tracker and did not flush for 1/4 mile.
The Cass County site is a mixture of CP33 associated with edge feathering and older CRP native warm-season grass plantings. Seven birds were trapped in and adjacent to edge feathering. The first birds were trapped in December 2008. Radio tracking is being done by Quail Unlimited volunteers. Observations from the site include:
•All bird observations are within 25 yards of wooded fence lines or edge feathering. When weather is bad (snow or ice storms) the birds move into edge feathering as a front approaches and stay til weather moderates.
•Birds also frequently exchange between coveys during the winter months.
•Tracker reports birds commonly running ahead and never flushing. In one instance, tracker stood next to a hidden bird for several minutes before it flushed. In another instance, tracker reported that hunters with bird dogs passed over two coveys that had been located just minutes earlier in the CRP field.
The Osage County site is an EQIP woodland restoration site and 11 acres of fescue conversion. The site is surrounded by unmanaged woodland and fescue pasture and hay land. Five birds were captured in mid-November, and four of those birds had hatched in mid-September. All birds were captured in shrubby understory of the restored woodland. Trapping birds was suspended when house cats were found checking traps daily. Radio tracking is being done by a Quail Academy graduate and Quail Unlimited volunteer. Observations from this site include:
•Sixty percent of flushes were from woodland, downed tree structures or shrubby cover.
•Forty percent of flushes were from a fescue conversion dominated by wildflowers. All documented winter roost sites were in wildflowers.
•Birds were visually observed to be feeding or gathering grit from a gravel lane located between the woodland and wildflower field on two occasions during midday.
•One hundred percent of escape locations were associated with the woodland.
•Only one occurrence of bird use of fescue was observed. At all other times, birds avoided fescue. All birds were found within 25 yards of woodland shrubby cover during winter months.
So what can we learn from this project? The research was right. Quail depend on good shrubby cover and lots of bare ground. Create these types of habitats and they will use them. If you ignore shrubby, nesting or brooding cover and the birds may not use the area or have a larger home range. Quail will also go to great lengths to avoid predators including hunters and they quickly wise up to hunters. Birds frequently shuffle from covey to covey. Some coveys have a very small home range while others like to explore. Once again collared birds have backed what research has told us for years--quail like bare ground (disturbed areas) and lots of low-growing woody cover. I'll keep you posted if there's any new information.
Habitat is the Key!