Monday, March 12, 2012

Texas Quail Populations, Song Birds and Raptors, Something to Think About

I can remember going to my grandfather’s places in Lampasas and Llano counties in the seventies and eighties and hunting quail with my bird dogs. I could always kill a mess of quail if we worked at it for a few hours. It wasn’t like hunting in South Texas or West Texas where we could always get a limit. After I got married I was lucky enough to be able to hunt some farms and pasture land between Colorado City and Abilene that belonged to my wife’s family. There were quail everywhere and my dogs and I spent many a fun day in that part of the world. The quail populations are down so much that I no longer hunt them or keep bird dogs.

The event that brings me to tell you my observations happened Saturday morning as I was sitting at the dining room table having coffee and reading the paper. A streak came through the trees and plowed into the flock of white wing dove at our bird feeder. One of the dove slammed into the dining room window and the streak hit it before it fell to the ground. The flying streak turned out to be a Coopers Hawk that terrorizes the birds at our neighborhood feeders on a daily basis. As I watched it pluck the feathers from the dove I thought about how the hawks have increased in population since my younger years.

Being a falconer I have been interested in hawks, owls, harriers and falcons for most of my life and I am a real supporter and fan of raptors; however man has created a catch twenty two as far a raptor management. They have been given total protection and have enjoyed such for several decades and the populations have responded accordingly. So much so that many bird populations and especially quail have suffered in years when there are low populations of rodents the primary prey of hawks. More people are now setting up bird feeders; there are more city pigeons and more towns full of grackles. What this means is that more hawks are able to survive that first year out of the nest and become efficient killers on the wing. Past studies have shown that as many as eighty percent of fledgling hawks did not survive their first year; I no longer believe that to be the case. Studies are being done on nesting quail in the south, more and more the Coopers hawk is coming up as the villain. I hear from people that raise pigeons and are quitting because of the Coopers Hawks taking their birds on a regular basis until they are wiped out. Many members of our local poultry raisers groups can no longer let their flocks free range because of the number of hawk attacks. Some flocks have been completely decimated or they have to be penned and raised on feed. I tried to raise roller pigeons here and could not as I was losing several birds a week to Coopers hawks.

On a recent trip from Round Rock to Abilene my wife and I counted eighty two hawks along the roadway. Most were Red Tailed hawks along with a few Coopers. Since Coopers are a predator of the woods and thickets and are not out in the open much I am sure we passed by many more. Last deer season sitting watching a cut Milo field early one morning in Nolan County I watched twenty two harriers and hawks check the field out for prey. I used to hunt quail on a regular basis in this field but now it is not worth the effort, I wonder why? We have had three quail coming to our feeder at our place in Lampasas after an absence of quail for several years. Last week I found one of the hens remains in a circle of feathers near the feeder, the victim of a hawk attack.

Man almost decimated the hawk and falcon populations at one time with our use of DDT. The knee jerk reaction of total protection was not good wildlife management and if it continues it will be to the detriment of other populations such as quail and song birds. Maybe it is time we manage raptor populations with actual science and for the good of the total system and all wildlife.
Just a thought, Wild Ed


ChileFarmer said...

Ed, here in East Texas we also have lots of red tail hawks. But like you our bob white quail and rabbits and really thin. I haven't seen a quail in years. I always thought it was the fire ants, maybe not. Bill

Wild Ed said...

Bill the red-tailed hawk takes very few quail as they are just not built to catch them on a regular basis. The red tail gets blamed for a lot of things because they are the most visible hawk and sit out in the open. The real villain here is the Coopers and Sharp Shinned hawks that are built for speed and are death on the wing to any bird pigeon sized and down. Ed

JD(not the one with the picture) said...

Guys, you may have noticed there is a drought going on. Before you start blaming the hawks for decreasing quail numbers, take a look at this video from TPWD:

Seems to me the key take away from that is in most of Texas it is so dry the quail don't even try to reproduce.

Wild Ed said...

JD I would agree if it was just during the drought. I am talking about the last decade and more. I am publishing your comment as there is always two sides or more to every story. The quail we gone from our Lampasas and West Texas places long before the bad drought. The hawk numbers are increasing even with the drought. Ed

Clint E. said...

At my grandfather's place in Doss (Gillispie Cnty), there haven't been quail since the mid 1980s. It's been said that contributing factors are habitat destruction, fire ants, droughts, etc. Sure would like them to make a comeback as the turkey did.