Earlier this month I travelled to Abilene, TX and joined 120 other biologists from 23 National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) member states in the annual meeting of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC). This is the umbrella group of state wildlife management agencies and their partners overseeing the national initiative aimed at restoring huntable populations of wild bobwhites across their range.
Our group was exposed to the kind of CSI that many in Texas are conducting to understand the effects of the drought on the decline of quail in the southern Great Plains states. My hope was that I could use Texas findings to relate to what might be happening with Missouri's quail during our drought of a lifetime. Our Texas friends have issued an "APB" for the cause of their quail decline and citizens have donated millions of dollars for quail CSI. Research is being done on a myriad of potential quail decline issues such as predators, disease, pesticides, parasites and well, you name it.
The University of North Texas has looked at the effects of heat on quail eggs and have determined that when the temperature of the eggs reaches 113 degrees you will start losing eggs. A temperature of126 degrees destroyed all eggs in the nest. While you may think it never gets that hot here consider this : During a field trip with Texas A & M staff, we looked at several soil thermometers placed around a research ranch. On a sunny day with an air temperature of 104 degrees, we found that bare soil exposed to the sun was 139 degrees. Conversely, soil in the shade of plants was 85 degrees. This bit of CSI evidence might lead us to the conclusion that our constant quest for bare soil, with an overhead canopy of plants, can help keep eggs cooler during a major heat wave. So is the heat an issue for Missouri or not?
Our own CSI being conducted on radio-collared quail in southwest Missouri supports the notion that in spite of heat that is tough on everything, quail are still hatching full clutches of eggs. From 19 adults radio-collared on a conservation area10 nests have hatched thus far, broodless adults have adopted other broods and we have one quail still incubating a nest. What probably has saved Missouri quail this year is that our peak nest hatch appears to have occurred a couple weeks early before the heat and dry really kicked into gear. Those broods did not have trouble finding insects to eat and probably are in good shape today.
Our next CSI: Drought blog will look at another piece of evidence - insect abundance during this drought and possible effects on quail broods.