Questions From a Northwest Missouri Landowner On Wet Quail
BWQ Farm Asks
I thought I would shoot you a couple of questions that I've never really had answered to my satisfaction. I'll start with one for now; it concerns excessive rainfall. We've had two wet springs in a row (I loved your comment about Nate wearing rubber knee boots at the landowner workshop on my farm last month).
What exactly are the hazards from rain to quail? Is it simply wetting of the chicks or washing out of nests in high water? What does research tell us? And the kicker? Can we do anything about it? For example, I try to make sure my edge feathering is not in the ditch but on high ground. Nesting habitat is usually open, so even if bigger clumps of grass with wider blades are provided (more protection?), will hens select them? Is the problem that the hens really don't have a chance to learn from experience? Their first nest may be their only nest. Why do they pick grass in low ground susceptible to flooding when higher ground seems better (to us)? I think Stoddard wrote that he was unsure why hens chose the nesting site they did when what he felt was better was not used. Any new insight? Thanks again for your efforts.
Missouri Quail Guy Response:
I think the overriding threat of excess rainfall relates to wetting of the chicks because the hen can’t brood them all well enough to combat hypothermia. Young chicks can’t thermoregulate (at least not well) until they’re a couple weeks old (maybe when they start replacing natal down with contour feathers?).
But certainly some nests are lost to flood waters when hens nest in waterways, terrace bottoms, etc. Then we have extreme summer floods like those in parts of Missouri in 2007 and 2008, where even areas normally well above the flood zone are inundated. Do you remember those 4- to 8-inch rains or the 20-inch rain in western Missouri in June 2007?
Other biologists have observed flooded nests after periods of heavy rain. In some cases the nests were partially hatched, and in others they found pheasant and quail eggs floating in nearby ponds. I have observed other ground-nesting bird nests "washed out" after a heavy thunderstorm. In my opinion there's not much we can do about the weather except provide ample brooding, nesting and shrubby cover.
Many studies of ground-nesting upland birds (quail,