I was cleaning up some of the apps on my smart phone over the weekend and wondering what I might write about in my next news article when I came across my “Northern Bobwhite Management Calendar”. This is actually one in a series of smartphone apps Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has released over the years that can be downloaded for free at the iTunes or the Play Store, with most focused on wildlife management such as the aforementioned app.
Northern bobwhite populations have been declining for decades due to a combination of factors, the most important being the loss of usable habitat. Active land management benefiting quail could reverse the decline and help the population continue to regain its footing after two very good quail years. The Northern Bobwhite Management Calendar provides the user with instructions on habitat management practices and population census by giving monthly recommendations. These focus on enhancing habitat and understanding quail populations and predator management.
For the month of June the calendar encourages land and wildlife managers to establish dummy nests as a means of evaluating the intensity of predation on quail nests in the area. This will give managers an idea of what types of action they may need to take to control predators. It can also give managers an opportunity to evaluate the quality of habitat suitable for quail nesting they have across the ranch.
To conduct this evaluation a manager establishes four 300 yard transects lines on different areas of the ranch. A dummy nest is established every 50 yards on each transect. The manager would choose a typical bobwhite nesting site such as native bunchgrasses or prickly pear clumps and put 3 raw chicken eggs in each nest. Once you have found a bunchgrass or plant/shrub, use your shoe to wallow out the area to the size of a grapefruit. This creates a nest "bowl" for your 3 raw chicken eggs. Flagging tape should be used to mark each nest so that it can be found later. You can also place a quarter or a washer in the bottom of the "bowl" to indicate the nest location in case all of the eggs are missing.
When handling the eggs, you should wear latex gloves at all times to minimize human sent. Carefully place the eggs in the nest and use the grass or shrub to cover it. The nest may still be visible, but mostly camouflaged.
Bobwhite quail typically take 23-26 days to hatch. Therefore, the dummy nests are left alone for two weeks and then observations are made to determine if any eggs are missing or destroyed. Nest success is broken down into the following categories: 75-100% intact = excellent, 50-75% intact = good, 25-50% intact = fair, <25% intact = poor. If your nest suffered a loss of eggs, think about possible predators who might have taken the eggs. Was it a cat, a snake, a raccoon? Are there any tracks around the nest that would give us an idea of what type of predator it might be? Placing a game camera on some of the nests to photograph any predators that visit the nest will also be useful.
And finally, remember to clean up your dummy nest by throwing away the egg remains and flagging tape, and removing the quarter before you leave.
More detail about this and other quail monitoring techniques can be found in the Texas Quail Index Handbook. You can also google “dummy nest to evaluate quail” to find a video from AgriLife Extension on the monitoring technique.