Texas Quail Surveys Yield Modest Prospects

AUSTIN — Quail season begins statewide Oct. 30 but outside of South Texas, bobwhite and scaled quail populations continue to their long, slow road to recovery following several years of drought. As such, hunting opportunities and success will vary across the state.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) experts say that during the annual Quail Roadside Survey period in August, which consists of biologists traveling more than 3,300 miles, male Bobwhite quail could be heard calling regularly during morning drives, but adult and brood sightings remained low. Despite reports of birds calling along most routes, the final survey numbers left much to be desired given how great habitat looked across much of the state.

“Apart from the winter storm in February, mild winter conditions statewide were a welcome reprieve for the bobwhite populations coming off a third year of below average abundance,” said John McLaughlin, Upland Game Bird Program Leader for TPWD. “However, a relatively dry start to the year likely put a damper on early nesting activity. In the Rolling Plains and South Texas, survey numbers were surprisingly the lowest they have been since the survey’s inception in 1978.”

There has also been the suggestion that the winter storm may have hurt populations, added McLaughlin. To what extent the storm impacted birds is tough to assess, and would be mostly speculative, but it likely presented yet another hurdle to survival and to individuals ramping up for the nesting season.

Scaled quail are better evolved to withstand drought than bobwhites but nonetheless also rely on timely rainfall in the spring and late summer to grow populations. Unfortunately, late rains delayed spring nesting activity and put most counties behind the eight ball.

“Although scaled quail in the Trans-Pecos fared better than their counterparts in the Rolling Plains and South Texas, and have for some time, populations were below average in 2020,” said McLaughlin. “Broadly, we expect hunting conditions will be below average to fair for most counties, especially those along or close to the New Mexico border.”

McLaughlin added, farther east in Terrell County and across the Pecos River in Crockett County in the Edwards Plateau, scaled quail seemed to have benefitted from additional May rainfall. These areas are where our biologists observed the majority of their scaled quail coveys.

“The most encouraging reports for scaled quail outside the Trans-Pecos have come from the Panhandle and southern Rolling Plains regions, where birds appeared to have caught enough spring rainfall to make a modest push this year,” said McLaughlin. “However, we expect that hunting conditions will be below average to fair, which should hold true for scaled quail across most other parts of the state as well.”

A regional breakdown of this year’s TPWD quail index survey for northern bobwhite and scaled quail, including highlights and prospects, is available online.

For county specific regulations regarding upland game birds, along with information on means and methods, license requirements and more, consult the 2021-22 Outdoor Annual, which was made possible in part by support from Chevy Silverado. Hunters can download the free Outdoor Annual mobile app for iOS and Android.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation TPWF, our official nonprofit partner, is sponsoring a quail conservation license plate to raise critical funding to enhance quail conservation efforts, including habitat, conservation and education. For just $30 anyone can put one of these conservation license plates on their vehicle, motorcycle or trailer. For every license plate purchased, $22 goes to TPWF to support quail conservation.