A Quest to Bring Quails to East Texas
Modern wing shooters may not realize it, but there was a time when bobwhite quail was a feathered prop in East Texas. Quail numbers were especially good in rural areas of Piney Woods, where row cropping was once a way of life for people like Tim Boatman, a Nacogdoches native whose family had roughly lived off the land in years. 1950 and 1960.
Quails are all about the habitat. To hear Boatman say it, the landscape back then was teeming with treats that helped the dapper little game birds thrive in many places.
“Pretty much everyone in East Texas had a garden and there was a lot of native pasture, weed patches, and adult fencing,” he said.
“There was no Bermuda grass. Also, there weren’t as many predators because people trapped for the skins. If people saw a hawk, they would shoot it. There were no feral pigs or fire ants. We had a lot of quail and gravy for breakfast when I was a kid.
Unfortunately, most of the family farms have since been sold and much of the land has been converted to maximize production of timber, livestock and hay. And you can get in big trouble these days for shooting a hawk, considered by many experts to be the top predator of Bobwhite quail.
The gradual change in land use practices has not been beneficial for quails. In fact, birds have almost disappeared from an area once considered the “Quail Capital of Texas”.
Brad Kubecka wasn’t around during the good old days of the East Texas Quail, but he’s hoping to have a helping hand in bringing their signature trill back to the area and eventually getting the landowners to the east of Trinidad are worth it to own a bird dog or two. .
Kubecka is only 27 years old, but he is a longtime student of quail and quail management whose knowledge and drive have not gone unnoticed. Holds an MA from Texas A&M-Kingsville and a PhD. A candidate at the University of Georgia, Kubecka recently succeeded Dale Rollins as executive director of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation at Rotan.
He is also the Director of Western Game Birds for Tall Timbers, an internationally renowned wildlife research station based in Florida. The team has more than 60 years of experience studying fire-adapted ecosystems and advocating for the use of prescribed burning to benefit quail, wild turkey and other wildlife habitats while reducing the risk of fire. ‘Forest fire.
Kubecka’s dual role means a multitude of responsibilities in a state where iconic game birds continue to struggle across its range, but he says he’s up to the challenge.
He better be.
Tall Timbers recently announced a new, ongoing initiative to restore populations of Bobwhite quail in parts of the Piney Woods area and beyond using science-based management and landowner awareness. Kubecka is the key man in the effort.
Ongoing on 8,500 acres of private property in Polk County, the Western Pineywoods Quail program was launched with support from dedicated quail hunters, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Dallas-based Park Cities Quail Coalition.
If things go as planned, good things will surely happen.
Tall Timbers has a rich history of success in restoring wild quail populations in long-standing project areas throughout the Southeast, using basic management methods learned and refined through decades of experience in different ecoregions.
Kubecka said the Pineywoods program actually started in 2019 with a long-term habitat improvement effort based on strategic wood thinning, mulching, prescribed burning and herbicide applications that still are In progress.
The idea is to build a quail house spacious enough to accommodate a large and healthy enough population to bounce back from difficult years. Once the basic habitat is in place, the second step of Tall Timbers’ success plan will be achieved – the translocation of quail trapped in the wild from source areas with abundant populations.
To date, the organization has moved over 7,000 wild quails and helped create over 80,000 acres of new quail land.
“Turning a bunch of birds and hoping for the best is not our way of doing things,” Kubecka said. “It’s important to make sure the habitat is good first, and habitat restoration takes time.
“It’s not just a prescribed burn or some other practice, it takes rehearsal and time to move the plant community and get the right habitat for all of the different quail needs. Without the right habitat, birds will not get away with it.
Kubecka plans to start transferring birds from Florida sometime in 2022-2023.
“The timing depends on the habitat and when it’s ready,” Kubecka said. “You can’t put the translocation on a timeline. There are too many factors involved that are beyond your control. If we were to follow a schedule, it could reduce our chances of success. “
Kubecka says the reason for using Florida quail in the Piney Woods study depends on habitat similarities. Previous translocation studies conducted in the region using South Texas quail showed that these birds had limited survival and reproductive success compared to resident birds or those raised closer to home.
“There are three main subspecies of bobwhite quail in Texas, commonly referred to as texanus, taylori, and eastern subspecies,” Kubecka said. “While the genetic component may not be of critical importance for short-term success, the habitat where these subspecies hatch and grow affects how a Bobwhite quail learns to interact with its environment. For obvious reasons, research has shown that hake transferred from similar habitats to their release areas tend to perform better.
“We’re seeing the same thing right now with an ongoing translocation study in Stephenville with an Erath County project,” he added. “Birds that have been brought from a similar habitat show better survival and breeding success than those brought from further afield. There is a lot of other research supporting this at this time.
Kubecka said researchers will monitor radiolabeled quails on the Polk County property to explore their habitat use, survival rates, breeding success and other important demographics. Experts say the studies will help identify factors limiting the growth of the quail population and refine the management needed to correct them.
“While we have a good basic knowledge of the management of bobwhite quail, we don’t know everything,” Kubecka said. “The birds we tag with radio transmitters serve as little informants. Based on the data we collect, we can then use that information to improve our management practices to increase key demographics that are responsible for changes in populations, such as survival. “
Those interested in learning more about the project or joining the effort can contact Kubecka at [email protected]
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be contacted by e-mail, [email protected].