Questions From a Northwest Missouri Landowner On Wet Quail
partridge, grouse, turkeys, etc.) have done correlative studies relating cool, wet weather to reduced production of chicks. Little if any study of hypothermia, but chicks are vulnerable during the first couple weeks of life because plumage is not fully developed, small body size, etc. Despite the fact that hypothermia and drowning are lethal, they occur relatively infrequently and thus don’t have a major effect on quail behavior (i.e., habitat selection, species’ "learning" and ultimately passing on their genes).
The wildlife monograph that Roseberry and Klimstra wrote in 1975 summarized nesting data from 1952-1966 at the Carbondale study area. Out of 863 nests followed, only 26 were thought to have failed due entirely to weather (3 percent of the sample and 4.5 percent of all nest failures). Fourteen of those 26 lost were blamed on heavy rains, and the others were lost to excessive heat/drought (don't forget the other extreme can also be tough on quail). They assumed that the few nests lost to flooding related to the moderately rolling terrain at the site. They also found that quail generally did not build nests in low, poorly drained areas. They found drainage to be excellent or good at 76 percent of 1,009 nest sites, fair at 19 percent and poor at only 4.7 percent of the sites.
Also, in this study and others they found that production was higher in cool, damp years than in hot, dry years. While we have had a lot of rain the past couple years, parts of the state have received more reasonable amounts in 2009--a little here and a little there and not one big gully washer. However, some parts of the state have been hit hard again by summer monsoons in 2009. The occasional monsoon has to be tough on nests and young birds, especially 20 inches!
I don't know why a hen selects one site over another. I think nest sites are selected based on structure and proximity to good brooding cover and predator avoidance. Quail do choose sites with greater than 12 inches of herbaceous vegetation and with woody cover, both of which reduce predation and rain reaching the nest or chicks. Several research projects have shown that quail often select nesting sites close to an edge (change in habitat types). The change in habitat--an edge--is normally from nesting cover to brooding cover or nesting cover to shrubby cover.
Biologists tracking the radio-collared quail at Davisdale and Locust Creek conservation