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Published on: Apr. 20, 2011

Frank Loncarich Wildlife Management Biologist

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Steve Remspecher (left) Ted Seiler

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think we get more rain than we used to, you’re right. Not only have the past four years been extremely wet, but long-term weather data show that Missouri and much of the Midwest have experienced an unprecedented wet period since the early 1980s. These records also show that significantly more rain has fallen during peak quail nesting and brooding periods in recent years. What does this mean for quail?

Wet nesting seasons can dramatically reduce chick production. Saturated soil beneath a nest cools the eggs from below and kills the chicks developing inside. In addition, young chicks cannot regulate their body temperature for a couple weeks after hatching, so they must stay dry to survive. If a hen manages to keep the rain off her brood during a downpour, water pooled on the ground may still kill them.

Beyond direct mortality, increased precipitation makes habitat management more challenging. Woody plants are favored by high rainfall, and even beneficial native grasses can quickly become too thick to be useful to quail. The time interval between management treatments, such as burning, disking or grazing, that is needed to maintain good brooding habitat becomes shorter with increased rainfall, requiring more effort just to keep up.

When habitat is poor, weather impacts are magnified. Quail surveys show that, despite the weather, quail numbers remain higher on areas with ample habitat, so management is especially important during periods of unfavorable weather.

We can’t control the weather, but we can adapt our efforts to wet conditions. The best approach may be to focus on maintaining good brood cover—weedy areas with sparse grass and ample bare ground. Consider grazing, disking, spraying or modifying the timing of prescribed burns to set back thick grasses and favor broadleaved plants. Two or more such treatments in consecutive years may be necessary to get ahead of the impacts of too much rain. Maintaining idle areas, instead of planting grasses on areas where erosion is not a concern, may also help.

Predation

Retired MDC Quail Biologist Tom Dailey often said, “Death dominates quail life.” Whether as egg or adult, quail exist near the bottom of many food chains. Less than half of quail nests produce chicks, and more than 90 percent of those losses are to predators. In a study of north Missouri farm landscapes, predatory birds took 29 percent of quail, and mammals took an additional 26 percent. Losses to raptors, hawks and owls are generally greatest

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