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How Do Predators Impact Quail Populations?

Dec 26, 2010

Department quail biologist Beth Emmerich shared with me some facts about predators and quail: “The subject of predators is frequent in the discussion of any game bird, and quail are no different. Quail are very low on the food chain and are subject to predation from various critters including bobcats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums, hawks, owls and snakes, just to name a few. Predation is a fact for all small-game species, which have adapted to high mortality through high reproductive output. Intensive predator removal studies have been conducted on large quail plantations in the Southeast. Furbearer species are classified as vermin there and may be trapped year-round. Trapping is very time- and labor-intensive, and different species must be targeted at different times of the year. In addition, a reduction in one type of predator often results in increases in another type of predator. For example, removing larger mammalian predators would lead to an increase in the smaller mammalian predators (reducing coyotes may lead to an increase in nest predators, such as raccoons, opossums or skunks). One study concluded that thinning out predators increased the cotton rat population so much that they destroyed more quail nests that predators ever did.

“Large-scale predator removal, say in an entire township or county, is impractical and cost prohibitive. On the other hand, predator removal at the farm level is more feasible. A study in North Carolina concluded that the quail increases they saw were not worth the cost of trapping. They trapped every year for three years and focused their effort on spring, when pelts have no value. They found they had more quail when they planted field borders on the study area than they did with just trapping. The use of trapping as a management tool, within the bounds of the law, is a personal decision for each landowner. Again, without suitable habitat, birds are indeed more susceptible to predators.”

To support what Beth said, my son and I recently quail hunted with some friends in Osage County. We found at least four coveys and maybe five. This many coveys and yet a local trapper had taken three coyotes, three bobcats and two red foxes off this farm in the last two weeks. This is on a 120-acre farm. What made it possible for this many coveys to thrive in spite of high predator numbers is the habitat management our friend is doing on his property. He burns some of the farm each year, he has converted all his fescue to native grasses and wildflowers and the timber has been managed to remove cedars and thin the canopy. This has caused a dramatic increase in plant diversity AND quail numbers on the farm.

The evidence does not support blaming low quail numbers on predators, when proper habitat management can improve quail number so dramatically.


I have to say that I think the MDC does a pretty darn good job with the limited resources they have. I hunted several of the quail emphasis areas this year and didn't see a single covey. However the properties certainly looked awesome and the management for birds was very obvious. I did find coveys on other MDC properties that weren't designated emphasis areas and I thought the properties there looked pretty good as well. The difference between the two success wise may have been due to hunting pressure.

Again Jeff, I would advise you to contact the local conservation area manager if you have questions about how a Department area is managed or contact the nearest Department Regional Office.Without knowing what area or where on the area, I cannot answer your question.

Then what is the management goal with mowed fescue on MDC lands?

Just as the Department manages certain areas for waterfowl, we also manage certain Department areas for quail and rabbits. A list of those areas can be found at and includes contact information for the Department staff who manage those areas. These Quail Emphasis Areas are the Department’s showcase for how to manage for quail and rabbits. Quail populations vary on these areas based on weather conditions the previous year and hunting pressure. In addition, Bilby Ranch Conservation Area in northwest Missouri is the area we intensively manage for pheasant. Due to budget and staff constraints we cannot manage all of our lands for quail and most are managed for multiple uses. Since 93% of Missouri is privately owned, we put a lot of stock in promoting habitat management on private land. I would advise you to contact the local conservation area manager if you have questions about how a Department area is managed or contact the nearest Department Regional Office.

I am sick of hearing about all these habitat restoration techniques and then seeing NONE OF THEM ON MDC LANDS! Fescue everywhere and NO edge feathering. Matter of fact most lands are mowed next to stands of woods! What are you people doing?! You DO NOT PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH! Last year had 3 places with some birds on them. After your "land management" this past year, there are no quail on any of these 3 areas. Your idiot employees tore up what little quail cover there was, but the fescue fields on these areas are still untouched!

Main point of this article? Habitat restoration is what helps quail thrive the best. Agreed. Now it is time for MDC to actually provide this habitat for quail. As a hunter who frequents MDC managed lands, I rarely see quail, or habitat that is needed to support quail. Mainly just big, overgrown fescue fields. It is too bad the quail don't bring in the revenue that deer do, or else MDC would have quail as priority #1.

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