Go Back  HuntingNet.com Forums > General Hunting Forums > Upland Bird Hunting
Declining Bobwhite Quail in Alabama >

Declining Bobwhite Quail in Alabama

Upland Bird Hunting Whether you are into pheasants or grouse, quail or chukars, find out what you need to know here.

Declining Bobwhite Quail in Alabama

Old 04-03-2022, 03:42 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Mar 2022
Posts: 12
Default Declining Bobwhite Quail in Alabama

Declining Bobwhite Quail Populations in Alabama

Quail populations have been on a decline throughout Alabama and the Southeast for decades. Drastic decline began after the 1960s. There are pockets on private land and some wildlife management areas that still hold wild quail populations. Letís examine some of the issues contributing to the decline and attempts to reverse the continued decline.


I will break down predator issues into three categories:

∑ Nest predators such but not limited to as raccoons (coons), opossums (possums) and skunks (stripped & spotted),

∑ Carnivore predators such as bobcats, foxes (red & grey) and coyotes and

∑ Avian (raptor) predators such as hawks, owls, and even eagles.

Nest predators have a far greater impact on quail populations than predation on adults. It is very likely that up to 75% of all quail nests are destroyed by some type of nest predator. The vast majority of these nests are lost to raccoons. So, coons are the main nest predator.

Quail adults, chicks, and eggs fall prey to coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, hawks, eagles, armadillos, hogs, rat snakes, fire ants, feral cats, free ranging cats, and other animals as well as raptors. Given that quail are potential prey for so many animals, predator management may seem like a logical fix to increase quail populations. The effectiveness of predator management can vary depending on local micro habitat conditions, but most research has indicated that predator control has little or no effect on quail populations, while also being very costly and labor intensive. Certain localized habitat that meets the quail populationís requirements may benefit from targeted predator control. One major issue with predator management is that the predators that are easiest to control may not be the same as those eating the most quail.

Hawks are a primary predator of quail. All hawks and other birds of prey are protected from lethal removal by state and federal law, so their control is off the table. Cooper's hawks are the main predators of quail and all birds of prey are protected by state and federal laws.

Snakes are a predator of quail that can legally be killed but removing enough snakes to benefit quail populations is impractical on most properties.

Even if predator control might be effective in a local area, reducing the population of one predator can have a variety of unintended consequences. Relationships between predators and prey, and relationships among different species of predators, are complex and not entirely understood. For example, coyotes occasionally predate quail, but coyotes also reduce the number of smaller predators that more commonly raid quail nests. Perhaps the strongest argument against predator management is that predators and quail have co-existed on the landscape for thousands of years. Behaviors that quail have developed for the avoidance of predators, such as a fast and explosive flight, are the very behaviors that we cherish in them as upland game birds. In habitat that meet their needs, physiological and behavioral adaptations of bobwhite quail allow them to maintain sustainable populations despite the presence of predators. That is why quail thrived in the 1920s-1960s despite a relative high predator population. Unfortunately needed habitat for quail survival is dwindling throughout the Southeast.

If quail habitat needs are not being met, rather than spending resources on predator control, a land manager or wildlife manager's time and effort would be better spent on habitat improvements and limited targeted predator control. Studies in the south of bobwhite populations suggest that quail populations may increase by up to 55% with effective predator control but decrease by 75% if suitable nesting habitat is lacking. Managing to improve nesting habitat is almost always a better investment than predator control. To attain any benefits from predator control, this management technique should be considered only once good habitat is established. Similarly, nest predation by snakes and other non-mammalian predators may increase when mid-sized mammalian predators are removed, such that the total nest mortality remains the same.

These interwoven and complex predator and prey as well as predator vs. predator relationships warrant careful evaluation of whether predator control is a viable tool for managing even local quail populations. Therefore predator control by itself is not the answer and some of the main predators can't be controlled. Prey and predator relationships and their effect on other species are not always clear. Many uninformed people insist on severe predator control but as you see that is not always advisable or effective. If habitat needs are not met to sustain a species then predator control is just a Band-Aid to a gaping wound.

It was thought by some that turkeys were eating a large number of quail eggs. Although wild turkeys do feed opportunistically, no studies have shown evidence that they consume quail, their eggs, or their chicks. Couple this with the fact that quail populations have decreased even in areas where wild turkeys are not even present. I will not go into details of the studies but the antidote rumors were dis-proven from examination of stomach contents of harvested wild turkeys taken during hunts.

Coyotes prey on quail chicks, adult quail, and sometimes destroy an entire nest by killing the adult bird along with eating the eggs. Armadillos are known to eat the quail eggs but are only a small part of the problem. Both of these predators have been introduced into the bobwhite quailís ecosystem in many parts of the country. That is additional predation on an already struggling population. While coyotes manage to kill a few adult quail and most certainly destroy nests, they also prey on certain nest predators such as coons, opossums, and skunks. While many hunters believe coyotes are a major quail predator, research studies have well documented that not to be the case and actually they have a minimal effect (when compared to other predators) on quail depredation. So, if resources and/or time are limited, they may be better spent targeting other carnivore and nest predators.

Fire ants have been documented to destroy a large number of nests.

Let's don't forget the proliferation of feral hogs which destroy nests. Regardless of the direct impact of wild pigs on quail species, every effort should be made to reduce populations of this feral or exotic invader. Wild pig abatement efforts will benefit all native wildlife, including quail. Studies have found that nest depredation rates attributed to wild hogs may be as high as 30% of all instances of nest depredation in certain areas. That is very significant. Feral hogs have now been reported in all 67 counties.Despite hunting and trapping efforts, feral hog populations are rapidly increasing..


Cotton and peanuts are the main crops being grown in lower Alabama. Those are just about the only crops in rotation. Years ago in addition to peanuts and cotton there used to be a lot of corn, soybeans, sorghum, millet and other grain crops grown. The switching of crops being grown is a minor factor. Never the less it is a contributing factor because of the loss of high quality preferred food in the habitat.

Ultimately, regardless of other factors, quail cannot thrive without sufficient suitable habitat. Therein resides the problems leading to the reduction of suitable quail habitat. Some parcels have retained good habitat, but lack sufficient connectivity to allow for diffusion and relocation across the landscape. A great deal of the loss of habitat issue can be contributed to farming practices. Through the years changing farming practices such as the clearing of fence rows, the planting of once fallow fields, intense mowing of field edges, etc. have resulted in complete loss of habitat or derogation and fragmentation of desirable habitat to a point it does not meet the needs of a quail population. For an example, the cleaning of fence rows destroyed the connecting habitat quail used for safe travel to utilize the interspersed resources along the fields. This was a devastating loss resulting in habitat fragmentation. Populations subjected to habitat fragmentation are not as resilient to changes. Urbanization and non-agricultural uses of land that was once prime quail habitat with sustainable quail populations have also caused loss of habitat. Agricultural lands have been planted in pines resulting in loss and change of habitat. I think you see where I am going with this: LOSS OF SUITABLE HABITAT. In addition predators are concentrated in the limited habitat thus further depleting bobwhite quail populations. There has been an increased use of pesticides in fields and the edges of fields to control insect damage to agricultural crops. The pesticide applications kill the very insects that the bobwhite quail chicks require for their diet and survival. As aforementioned because of a quail chick's need of a high protein diet, their very survival relies on the abundance of insects to fulfill this need in the habitat. Thus the lack of insects is a limiting factor.

The bottom line is quail have not been and are not very adaptable to loss of and changing habitat and in some cases the introduction of additional predators. Quail require abundant, habitat, high-quality resources available within a relatively small radius (150-200 yards) and arranged in a ďpatchworkĒ fashion with interspersion of resources allow quail to meet all of their survival needs without traveling far. This habitat has steadily been declining for over 60 years. Collectively this is the reason for bobwhite decline.

A major issue with any type of habitat manipulation by a wildlife biologist is beyond their control. The reason is almost all property is privately owned and not publicly owned. Biologist can't mandate habitat manipulation on these private properties and certainly can't control loss of habitat on these properties. So the quail population decline will sadly continue because of this. Biologists can only hope to control habitat management on State or Federal land.

Released Pen Raised Birds:

For centuries, hunters have pursued bobwhite quail across the South, but in the past few decades, populations of these wild birds plunged. Today, hunters mostly are relegated to hunting pen-raised quail on commercial preserves. I can personally say the experience is just not the same. The pen-raised birds just donít have the fast explosive flight of wild birds and often only fly a short distance. In addition they donít have an avoidance instinct to fly when approached. I have often observed the birds being caught by the dogs. With that said letís discuss some management issues associated with releasing and hunting pen-raised birds.

Despite the best efforts of many quail enthusiasts and plantation managers, introducing pen-raised quail has not been successful for increasing quail numbers. A variety of release methods have been attempted. Without extensive predator control all have failed. All studies have concluded that pen-reared quail simply do not survive long in the wild, and even routine stocking is not a viable method for augmenting wild quail populations. For a population to persist over time, the seasonal survival of bobwhites should be no lower than 43%, but best-case seasonal survival of pen-raised quail is just 14-18% without extensive continued predator control. With better habitat management and persistent predator control this could conceivable be higher. Realistically this will not happen. Read on for more details. Releasing pen-raised quail can actually cause quail decline and thus be detrimental to wild bobwhites due to the potential of disease transfer, negative social interactions, and attraction/concentrating of predators. Furthermore, for these reasons bobwhites should be released shortly before each scheduled hunt and the number released should match the anticipated hunting pressure. Therefore there is plenty of controversy surrounding releasing pen raised birds into the wild. A few survive to breed and raise a brood. However the brood is highly susceptible to predation because of the poor predator avoidance skills of the hen or rooster. Consequently few survive. For those that don't know, I will note here that sometimes a rooster will set the eggs instead of the hen. On occasions both will share incubation.

However the practice of releasing and hunting pen raised quail is common place throughout the south on commercial hunting plantations.

Supplemental Feeding:

Where legal, the practice of supplemental feeding via traditional barrel feeders remains controversial among biologists. Quail are attracted to supplemental food, so they will concentrate in an area where food is provided. Natural predators of quail do not typically reduce year-to-year quail population levels, but predators can quickly learn to associate quail feeders with an easy meal. The risk of over harvesting from hunting may also increase because high concentrations of birds around feeders can give managers a false estimation of higher population numbers. Another risk of supplemental feeding is exposure to aflatoxin, which is a toxin produced by fungi that can grow on feed and suppress the immune systems of quail. Yet another method of providing supplemental food is known as broadcast feeding. Although somewhat better, it still concentrates predators that are drawn to the birds like a magnet. Planting a food plot is a third method for providing supplemental food for quail. Food plots have met with some success where food is a limiting factor. Any manner of supplemental feeding should not be viewed as a stand-alone management practice and is controversial. Even in an area where food is limiting, supplemental feed is not a substitute for good habitat. No amount of food will make up for insufficient habitat including nesting cover. Furthermore, supplemental food does not increase chick survival, because the diet of quail chicks consists almost entirely of insects for high protein requirements.


All managers and research wildlife biologist are limited by resources such as time and money

At this point I donít think we will ever again see sustainable populations throughout their original widespread footprint. In my opinion quail may survive in small micro ecosystems (pockets on private lands) and management areas that are intensively managed to meet bobwhite quail needs and that have sustainable targeted predator control. However a few property owners have taken the initiative. With good habitat and proper management to include intense predator control, quail numbers can recover rapidly. However this is only happening on the aforementioned few properties. In general bobwhite quail habitat is gone across most of the original population footprint and I donít see it returning. Quail are just not a species that can adapt to loss of and changing habitat. I therefore donít think there will be a fix to the quail population decline except in micro ecosystems.

Sad but there it is!

Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Biologist is offline  
Old 05-05-2022, 09:00 PM
Join Date: Jun 2020
Location: Luxembourg
Posts: 1

Sad but there it is!
Yeah, that's a fact

Last edited by wayneoo; 05-05-2022 at 09:02 PM.
wayneoo is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service - Do Not Sell My Personal Information -

Copyright © 2021 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.