Timely rainfall and milder temperatures this spring have sparked excitement and anticipation not seen in years about the prospects for a rebound of bobwhite quail in Oklahoma.
"We're seeing better conditions now than we've seen in the past two and a half years," said Scott Cox, upland game biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"There are a lot of birds being heard that haven't been heard in the past two or three years. We're optimistic that we're looking at a good nesting season," he said.
Department personnel have been hearing from landowners across the state indicating they have been hearing the quails' characteristic "bob-white" whistle more frequently this spring than in past years. That is an indication that more birds are on the ground and are looking to nest this year.
In the past 60 days, most areas of Oklahoma have received more than 6 inches of rain, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. The state's southeast region has recorded close to 12 inches of rainfall since mid-April, and the parched western regions have seen between 5 and 8 inches of rain in many areas.
"Last year, the birds weren't nesting until we got some timely rain and milder temperatures. This year, birds are on the nests right now," Cox said.
Last year in mid-June, researchers who were tracking birds in northwestern Oklahoma had not recorded any birds nesting at that point. This year, people in western Oklahoma reported seeing quail chicks in mid-May.
This spring's rainfall has created good growing conditions for ground-cover plants, which quail use as nesting habitat. "Due to lower cattle numbers, nesting habitat ought to be really good this year," he said. "Up to now, we're about as good as it gets as far as nesting and forbs production in most parts of the state. The Panhandle is still behind in isolated areas, but it's looking better than in the past few years.