I am getting reports that pairs of Bobwhites are showing up all over South Texas so with eternal optimism, I pray for a great hatch. Last season was very bad over most of Texas, even in areas where the birds normally do well. As usual, I get reports of pairs where people say there simply were no quail and I am asked how that happens. My response is, when quail experience a decline in numbers, they strive to maintain coveys of 12-14 birds. This greatly reduces the total number of coveys so reduces sightings. Additionally, has the number of coveys gets smaller, those remaining coveys move to the better habitat which, in late Winter, is the thicker brush, further reducing incidental sightings.
But, as I am an eternal optimist, and have to be working with Bobwhites, I hope for a great nesting/brooding season. What is the mechanism for this great recovery? See below from “Bobwhites of the Wild Horse Desert: Status of our Knowledge”.
- Pairs begin to establish breeding territories during February-April.
- Whistling by males occurs during February-July, with a peak during late-June.
- Nest construction can begin as early as March.
- First clutches usually are laid in April.
- The majority of the hatch is completed by July.
- Hatches as late as November have been recorded when a “wet” fall follows an exceptionally “dry” spring.
- Following the hatch, Bobwhites move to areas with high insect densities.
- Fall “shuffle” occurs during August-September when juvenile bobwhites leave their broods to join other coveys.
The nests are spaced out to one per 4 acres or so and are usually in dense cover with residual bunch-grass clumps the preferred nesting site. That’s why Fall and Winter grazing can be so detrimental; if there is not adequate cover, nests are easily found and destroyed by a multitude of nest predators. In the picture below, a quail is sitting on her nest. Can you make out the bird? Hopefully not, or something else can, too and that’s the end of that nest!
The amazing thing to me is the actual incubation process. Now, a hen can only “make” one egg a day, and hatching out one chick per Bobwhite pair would quickly mean the end of the species. So, Bobwhite hens strive to lay 12-14 eggs, one egg at a time. Again, if they hatched 23 days after they were laid, the first chicks would all die as the hen would still be on the nest for another 12-14 days. No, the eggs WAIT for the hen to lay a full clutch THEN start incubating. Actually, the hen starts the incubation which starts development in the eggs, but the first egg laid and the last egg laid will all hatch at the same time!
After hatching, the hen takes her brood looking for small insects as quail chicks depend on insects for the first two weeks or so. Not to make it complicated, but sometimes the hen will leave a clutch with her first “hubby” and mate again with a second “hubby” and incubate that clutch! It’s all good, specially in years like this when the birds have to recover from a die-off.
Let me know if you see pairs, then chicks or “bumblebees”. I’d expect them in about 45-55 days. Pray for continued light rains to keep things green and bugs plentiful and we may see an amazing recovery in Bobwhites in South Texas once again.
See ya in the Brush Country!