Hunters will see effects of drought in wildlife

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By Missy Hodgin

Texas AgriLife Agent

Dr. Brett Collier, research scientist for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Resources, said that early spring rains are essential for ground nesting birds of all species.  “Spring rains create nesting cover and create forage, ranging from low-lying herbaceous undergrowth as well as insect populations that thrive in the midsummer.”

For quail and turkey, early spring rains are almost a requirement to survive and this year they did not happen.  Collier said dove populations are not as significantly impacted by the drought as the other three because they can easily travel great distances to find water and food.

Cory Mason, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) migratory shore and upland game bird program leader, said dove are dependent on seeds and agriculture crops for the majority of their diet.  “Both were down this year and as such we expected decreased production,” he said.  “As food availability was hit or miss, so was the hunting.”  Dove were very concentrated on the food crops that were available this year.  Fortunately dove can respond quickly and one or two dry years will not result in a long-term reproduction decline.  Landowners can make their property more attractive to dove with minimal effort.  Practices such as winter disking to encourage seed production and providing permanent water sources can greatly increase local dove numbers.

According to Collier, turkey reproduction was poor this year.  “I know of no areas of the state that had average or anything above average as far as turkey reproduction,” he said.

Nesting was limited, which is good and bad for the turkey population.  While reproduction was down, survival for adult females was high.  Although Collier has seen no impact of the drought on male turkeys, he recommends hunters not harvest females this fall to maintain populations.

Collier said his research did show more extreme movement of turkeys this year, from a normal average of 0.9 to 1.8 miles per day to 3.1 to 4.3 miles per day.

Dr. Dale Rollins, Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist, who is the director of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch (RPQRR) near Roby said, “This year’s record heat and prolonged drought has hit struggling quail populations with a serious one-two punch across West Texas.  Rollins said the ranch has about 50 percent less quail than last year.  Of the 78 radio-marked hens at RPQRR alive on May 1, only eleven attempted a nest, and only five of those nests hatched.  Three weeks after hatching, no chicks were observed.  Rollins saw the same trend that Collier observed in turkeys: with quail not nesting, more are surviving.  Rollins said, “If there’s any good news here, it’s that the birds we have left are indeed ‘survivors’ and hopefully that ability will stay with them until next spring.

To help establish quail populations, Rollins recommends landowners use water-harvesting techniques such as constructing spreader dams to create ‘quail oases’ or wet spots to increase vegetation and insects for quail.  He also recommends discretion when it comes to hunting this winter.  Most ranches Rollins works with will not be hunting quail this year in an effort to conserve the breeding stock that remains.

Alan Cain, TPWD deer program leader, said the drought is also affecting the state’s 4 million white-tailed deer.  “Everything from antler quality to fawn production and overall survival will be affected by the tough range conditions this year,” he said.

Hunters can expect antler quality to be below average and much lower than last year.  But with good habitat management, ranchers can limit the effect of the drought on antler quality.  Cain encourages deer hunters to hunt deer early in the season to ensure that there are enough food and water sources through the winter months for the remaining deer.  “By reducing deer numbers early on, hunters can help ensure enough native forage will be available through the winter months.

The good news about the fires and drought from a wildlife perspective is that fires will, assuming spring rains are received, produce good vegetation.  According to Collier, if rains hit at the right time – February to April – there will be nesting and reproduction next year.

For more information on this subject, contact Missy at the extension office at (940) 538-5042 or 538-5052 or via email at mlhodgin@ag.tamu.edu.

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Pioneer Sentinel

The Pioneer Sentinel is an online newspaper designed to deliver the news of Clay County, Texas, in a concise and community-friendly format.

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