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A Northern bobwhite quail sits atop a fencepost this month at Drummond Flats Wildlife Management Area in northwestern Oklahoma. (Jena Donnell/ www.wildlifedepartment.com)

A Northern Bobwhite Wuail sits atop a fencepost at Drummond Flats Wildlife Management Area in northwestern Oklahoma. (Jena Donnell/ www.wildlifedepartment.com)

Timely rainfall and milder temperatures this spring have sparked excitement and anticipation not seen in years about the prospects for a rebound of Bobwhite Quail in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC).

“We’re seeing better conditions now than we’ve seen in the past two and a half years,” said Scott Cox, ODWC upland game biologist. “We’re optimistic that we’re looking at a good nesting season.”

Bobwhite Quail populations are related to favorable weather and good habitat. Even so, research has shown that quail mortality is generally about 80 percent each year. Since the bobwhite quail has an average lifespan of only seven to 10 months, Cox says hunting does not affect the overall population of the species.

Laura McIver, Oklahoma’s regional representative for habitat advocacy group Quail Forever/Pheasants Forever, says the reports of better quail conditions are exciting.

“The weather is very important for quail. When Mother Nature plays nice, then they can rebound like that,” she says.

In the past 60 days, most areas of Oklahoma have received more than six inches of rain, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. This spring’s rainfall has created good growing conditions for ground-cover plants, which quail use as nesting habitat.

“Due to lower cattle numbers, nesting habitat ought to be really good this year,” Cox said. “Right now, with the rainfall and milder temperatures, we’re definitely going to see more birds if we don’t have any catastrophes between July and October.”

Cox also advises landowners to delay haying until August so that quail nests won’t be destroyed or disturbed. If haying must be done sooner, he urges landowners to leave strips of native grasses untouched so birds will have places to nest or re-nest.

While recent rains have dented the drought across much of Oklahoma, Cox says it’s too early to tell if the state’s quail population is coming out of its long-term slump. He conservatively estimates Oklahoma’s current quail population at 750,000-1 million birds. During peak population years in the 1990s, the state’s quail population was close to 7 million birds.

Researchers at the Packsaddle and Beaver River Wildlife Management Areas in northwestern Oklahoma have also said that quail require three consecutive spring seasons with favorable conditions to achieve a robust population boost. This spring appears to be the second such season with good conditions. Only time will tell whether good conditions for a third year will create the population rebound that many hunters have been hoping for in the past several decades.

The mission of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is the management of Oklahoma’s wildlife resources and habitat to provide scientific, educational, aesthetic, economic and recreational benefits for present and future generations of hunters, anglers and others who appreciate wildlife. Read more here.