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Cold Takes Toll; Supplemental feeding influences survival of West Texas quail

Cold Takes Toll; Supplemental feeding influences survival of West Texas quail

This winter’s bitter cold has been hard on everybody, but it’s been particularly tough on quail, those small birds that survive the cold by feeding on tiny seeds. That was particularly true out of Texas Rolling Plains during a large January weather event that dumped more than a foot of snow that hung on for days.

“Unfortunately, this harsh storm caused severe quail mortality,” said Brad Dabbert, Quail-Tech Alliance research project director and professor in Texas Tech’s Department of Natural Resources Management. “Birds not receiving supplemental food had to burn their own body tissues to stay warm during the storm.”

On Jan. 31, when that harsh winter storm raced through Guthrie, Quail-Tech researchers were regularly monitoring 136 wild-trapped, radio-marked birds. Tiny transmitters enabled researchers to find them. The storm dumped a thick layer of snow and ice that took several days to thaw.

This study measured the effects of supplemental feeding programs grain sorghum broadcast into the vegetation at a rate of 300 pounds per mile – for wild quail. Some of the quail in the study had supplemental feed available and others did not.

Researchers located 27 telemetry birds dead, many frozen. Unable to feed, some had lost 40 percent of their body weight. “Birds without supplemental feed suffer a 10 times greater mortality rate during harsh weather,” Dabbert said. “These numbers indicate a strong survival benefit of providing supplemental feed to bobwhites in the fall and winter months.

The Quail-Tech Alliance, a partnership between Tech’s natural resources management department and Quail First, a Dallas-based non-profit organization, is conducting research and demonstration projects on an array of topics. The research focuses on investigating the potential benefits or detriments of supplemental feeding; understanding the factors that influence over-winter survival of adults and summer-to-fall survival of the brood; and refining the way prescribed burning, brush modification and livestock grazing are used as tools of habitat management.

As part of the project, Texas Tech is partnering with some of state’s storied ranches and smaller rural properties. Launched in January 2010, it’s expected to encompass 22 million acres in a 44-county area in west central and northwest Texas. Participating ranches include Guthrie’s Pitchfork Ranch, Vernon’s W. T. Waggoner Ranch, Collingsworth County’s Mill Iron Ranch and Archer County‘s Circle A Ranch.

Written by Norman Martin

CONTACT: Brad Dabbert, associate professor, Department of Natural Resources Management Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2842 or


Editor’s Note: For more on the Quail-Tech Alliance project, click


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