other By: Jared Wiklund, Quail Forever | January, 21
As the spring nesting season transitions into the brood-rearing phase for many of our quail species, “The Habitat Organization” is reminding landowners to minimize roadside disturbances – ditch mowing, haying, spraying and ATV operation – until August 1st to protect upland birds and other wildlife. Roadsides remain an important habitat component for quail throughout their range, providing critical nesting cover - up to five acres of potential - along each mile of rural country road or recreational two-track.
THE DITCH EFFECT
“In the lean years before the Conservation Reserve Program, roadside ditches were a major source of quail production,” commented Jim Wooley, emeritus biologist for Quail Forever and a lifelong upland specialist with more than 40 years of experience. “We don’t seem to give roadsides the same consideration nowadays. This is a shortsighted approach to wildlife management since roadsides are a very important component in the grand scheme of habitat – always have been and always will be.” Roadsides form an extensive network of grassy corridors and provide nesting, brood-rearing, and winter cover where applicable for quail and other wildlife. As urban sprawl and intensified agricultural demand have replaced pristine fence lines, grassy roadsides with a mix of shrubby cover oftentimes become a draw for quail seeking nesting refuge. Roadsides also provide vital habitat for monarchs, grassland songbirds, native pollinators, honeybees, frogs and turtles. Here's a statistic that might make you think twice about mowing roadside ditches: Research has taught us that most quail nests are built within 50 feet or fewer of a field edge or trail, and often within 10 feet. Commercial mowing equipment in the 21st century can chew up this square footage in a hurry, and with it, the next generation of covey rises for the fall season.
JUST THE FACTS
A nesting hen lays eggs at a rate of about one per day. Early season nests contain an average of 7-28 eggs depending on the quail species, but subsequent re-nesting attempts drop egg counts dramatically. The incubation period is 23 days and starts after all eggs have been laid. The hen remains very faithful to the nest, leaving only briefly to feed, and is therefore vulnerable to mowing during this time. From nest initiation to egg hatching, the entire process is 47 to 55 days long.
The quail nesting season extends from March – October depending on which region of the country you are located in, but peak nesting activity occurs May – August, especially for the bobwhite. Regardless, the high annual mortality rate of quail – nearly 80 percent across their range – is offset by the bird’s uncanny ability to produce multiple large broods each year. It all starts with quality habitat to transform a good nesting season into a great one; land managers play a vital role in this effort by making sure nesting cover is available when the birds need it most. Some fun facts you might not know about quail nesting habits:
Nest Initiation: Early summer
Length of Incubation: 23 days
Average First Hatch: End of June
Average Clutch Size: 7-28 depending on the species
Average Nest Success: 40-60%
Broods Per Year: 1-3; persistent re-nesters
Average Rate of Chick Survival: 40-50%
Major Nest Predators: Raccoon, opossum, snake, skunk
DID YOU KNOW?
• Most quail nests are built within 50 feet or fewer of a field edge or trail, often within 10 feet.
• From nest initiation to eggs hatching, the entire process is 47 to 55 days long.
• Quail chicks, weighing ¼ ounce and roughly the size of a bumblebee upon hatching, take their first small flights within three weeks.
• Fewer than 20% of quail live to see 12 months of age.
• The six species of quail in the United States include Bobwhite, California, Mountain, Gambel’s, Scaled, and Mearns’. With an average nest success rate of 40 to 60 percent and re-nesting attempts needing time for all eggs to be laid, it’s easy to see why August 1st is the recommend date to delay disturbance of roadsides. Quail Forever encourages landowners and government authorities to consider the benefits for wildlife when making roadside land management decisions this summer.
Jared Wiklund is Quail Forever’s public relations manager