during winter, while mammals have the greatest impact during nesting. Although these losses appear alarming, quail have tremendous reproductive capacity. Given good weather and suitable habitat, quail typically bounce back from even devastating losses in 1-3 years.
High annual losses to predators should not be misunderstood to mean that predation is responsible for the decades-long quail decline. Landscapes with good habitat often have high numbers of quail as well as high numbers of many potential predators.
Although predator control is practiced, along with habitat management, on quail plantations in the southeastern U.S., such efforts are cost prohibitive on a large scale. Predators are necessarily more mobile than their prey, and quickly recolonize an area after control efforts cease, making any gains temporary at best.
Many predators prey on quail, but no one species is a quail specialist. As a result, there are many predator-prey scenarios and no easy predator management solution. Controlling one or two predators will likely only result in increased opportunities for other species. For example, removing hawks and owls from a landscape would likely result in an increase in the number of small rodents, snakes, skunks and feral cats which, taken together, eat a significant number of eggs and adults. Likewise, targeting larger mammals like coyote or bobcat could favor mid-sized mammals such as fox, raccoons or opossums. Indeed, if one set out to eliminate quail losses to predators it might prove necessary to continually control at least a dozen species, not an affordable or palatable option for conservation-minded folks.
As with the weather, a practical approach to dealing with predation is to consider it a factor largely beyond our control and a natural part of quail biology. The good news is that habitat management helps limit the success of individual predators. Practices that return patchiness to the landscape are a step in the right direction. Maintain nesting habitat in large blocks rather than narrow strips to help confound the success of nest predators, and fell tall trees to enhance edge habitat and reduce potential perches for hawks and owls. Maintain patches of dense brushy cover, through edge feathering or shrub planting, to provide essential escape cover.
Reversing the land use trends that led to the decline of quail is unlikely, but restoring open lands and healthy quail populations in select areas remains a high priority for the Department of Conservation. MDC and our conservation partners invest significant resources managing for upland