This year’s Quail Roadside Surveys across Oklahoma show a statewide population index of observed birds that is down 38 percent from 2019.
“2020 has been a rough year, and unfortunately the quail population is no exception,” said Tell Judkins, upland game bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
While the southeastern region of the state has seen more normal amounts of rainfall, the same cannot be said for the western half of the state. Cimarron, Beaver, Beckham, Greer, Harmon, Jackson, and Roger Mills counties have only received about half their average rainfall. A majority of the state hadn’t seen more than 0.1 of an inch of precipitation for over 40 days until the winter storm hit the last week of October.
“The right amount of rain at the right time can make all the difference when it comes to brood survival,” Judkins said. “During the critical nesting season, much of the state began to find itself in drought, which really makes it hard for those young birds to make it through the summer and into the fall.”
According to data from the Game Brood Survey App created by Oklahoma State University and ODWC, it appears quail nesting season started in early May. However, there were drought issues that carried on throughout the nesting season and into summer. Patchy rainfall across the northwest created a variable forb and insect crop.
The survey showed some bright spots in the northeastern, south-central and north-central regions. These three areas showed an increase from 2019 in the number of birds observed per route. Hunters in these regions should find conditions in most areas slightly improved over what they encountered last year. In other regions, hunters can expect to find populations slightly down from previous years and more patchy where habitat and weather have been more suitable.
“Areas that were not as severely impacted by drought and where habitat is good should still hold a decent amount of birds. Much like last year, those that put in the miles through good habitat will find birds, depending on how harshly the drought hit that area,” Judkins said.
Quail populations are historically cyclical; bird numbers often boom for several years then decline. A more accurate assessment of the health of quail populations is not based on year-to-year comparisons but rather on longer-term averages that better account for the natural boom-and-bust cycles.
“We are working hard on a number of different research projects with Oklahoma State University to learn more about what we can do to see the numbers go up,” Judkins said. “While we can’t control the weather, there are management techniques that landowners can use to create the suitable habitat that quail need to make a rebound on those good-weather years.”
Biologists will get a better idea just how accurate these roadside surveys are when they get a chance to compare them to hunter reports
“We really value feedback from hunters, so I encourage everyone to get out and let us know what you are seeing,” he said. “Work some ground, trust your dog, and make a memory!”
Quail hunting season in Oklahoma will run from Nov. 14 to Feb. 15, 2021. For complete information and license requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Guide found online at wildlifedepartment.com, on the Go Outdoors Oklahoma free mobile app for Apple or Android devices, or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
ABOUT THE SURVEYS
The Wildlife Department has conducted annual roadside surveys in August and October since 1990 to track quail populations across Oklahoma. The surveys provide an index of annual quail population fluctuations. Surveyors report the number of quail observed to create an index of quail abundance (number of quail seen per 20-mile route) and an indication of reproductive success in each of six regions of the state. Surveyors drive 83 routes in 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Some larger counties have two routes.
For graphical breakdowns of the state's quail population by region, see the 2020 Quail Season Outlook.
DONATE YOUR WINGS
This year, the Wildlife Department is again collecting quail wings from selected public hunting areas to better evaluate the state’s quail population. If you harvest a quail at a wildlife management area where wing collection boxes are located, please take the time to place one wing (left wing preferred, but whichever is less damaged) from each quail in a collection box. The WMAs with wing collection boxes will be Beaver River, Cooper, Cross Timbers, Drummond Flats, Fort Supply, Kaw, Packsaddle, Pushmataha, and Sandy Sanders. Hunters are also asked to complete a short survey about their donated wings. Biologists will study the donated wings to further understand the status of quail in each area. Check out how ODWC biologists analyze quail wings here.