Quail population declining, many possible causes

The Nolan County Extension Office and Leadership Advisory Board of the county recently held their annual Interpretive Luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 at the Nolan County Courthouse.Zach Wilcox, the AgriLife Extension agent for Nolan County, opened the "Making a Difference in Nolan County," lunch by thanking those who assisted in preparing the event and offered a brief overview of the year.Though agriculturally the year proved to be difficult, several programs continued and also proved to be beneficial following the wildfires in the county during the summer. Regarding 4-H and youth development, several of the programs in the county were ongoing as participants were involved in public speaking and several demonstrations. Tasha Baxter, the county's new agent for family and consumer sciences, was praised for her assistance with the food and nutrition area. The programs in family and consumer sciences, over the past year, have consisted of a flu demonstration and will participate in further training in December. The Better Living for Texans (BLT) program has also seen collaborations with area schools as well as other programs with nutrition education.The highlight of the luncheon was the "State of the Quail" presentation from Dale Rollins, an area wildlife specialist. Using a powerpoint presentation with maps, charts and graphs, the state has seen a gradual decrease in the number of quails as well as areas in quail hunting since the late 1970s.As a result of lower numbers, the number of hunters has dramatically changed which has made an impact on cities and hotels regarding tourism. To promote hunting, a photo contest to capture quails in film has been implemented with cash prizes available.The Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch (RPQRR), in which Mr. Rollins serves as the director, has a four-tier motto in their efforts: habitability, huntability, hazards and health. Focusing on the latter, the institution examines areas such as parasites and diseases in determining what has happened to the falling quail population.Also, it is believed that the lack of precipitation and high temperatures possibly play a factor. In the span of one year, the state saw a 25 inch drop in precipitation and over 70 days of 100-degree weather. But while there are several valid arguments, most of them don't add up in their research with the reasons still unknown. Habitat is also being examined, and another possibility stems from research citing that worms that have been found in quails — even in their eyes — are contributing to the demise of the quail. In continuing their analysis, the RPQRR has made a commitment to continue research collaborations with factions in Texas and Oklahoma, along with funding up to $2 million on "Operation Idiopathic Decline". Seven projects which have been funded are also looking at bacterial and fungal diseases in quails, among others.Following the presentation, a brief Q&A session was held with Mr. Rollins and the audience. To learn more about RPQRR, visit their website at quailresearch.org where you can sign up for their e-Quail newsletter, or visit their Facebook or YouTube pages.