Friday, March 7, 2014

Bitter cold contributes to reduction in wild quail population


Bitter cold weather takes its toll on wildlife, as verified by data collected in the latest Quail-Tech newsletter. It summarizes various quail projects conducted on more than 27 ranches across West Texas’ Rolling Plains region.

Quail-Tech, a Texas Tech research group, is working to unlock the mysteries behind the precipitous decline in wild quail. Park Cities Quail, the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, UNT Quail and the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute are engaged in similar studies.

As recently as this week, this winter has been hard on everybody. It has been particularly hard on small birds that survive the cold by feeding on tiny seeds. On Jan. 31, when a harsh winter storm swept through Guthrie, Quail-Tech researchers were regularly monitoring 136 wild-trapped, radio-marked birds.

Tiny transmitters enabled researchers to find them. The storm dumped a thick layer of snow and ice that took several days to thaw. This study measured the effects of supplemental feeding programs for wild quail. Some of the study units had supplemental feed available and others did not.

Researchers located 27 telemetry birds dead, many frozen. Unable to feed, some had lost 40 percent of their body weight. Quail-Tech numbers indicate that birds without supplemental feed suffer a 10 times greater mortality rate during harsh weather.

Larger, more robust animals like deer and turkeys fare better in the cold, said Kevin Mote, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) leader for Region 3, northwest of Dallas. Mote takes a philosophical slant on wildlife lost at winter’s end.

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