Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nebraska Project

Climatic constraints on bobwhite quail populations along their northern extent

January 2014 - December 2019


Participating Agencies

  • Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) are among the most popular game birds in North America; however, the loss of suitable habitat has led to precipitous population declines throughout their range. With significant grassland and farmland habitats, Nebraska has the potential to maintain viable quail populations, but due to the climatic conditions imposed by harsh winters and periodic wet springs, quail populations in Nebraska tend to be highly variable from year to year. Local habitat management may be capable of overcoming some environmental constraints, but effective management strategies necessitate a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of large scale climatic conditions on Nebraska’s quail resources. Although there are numerous studies focused on water constraints for quail populations in arid environments, the role of climatic conditions in driving quail populations in traditional temperate environments remains limited with much of the research conducted when the landscape was more conducive to facilitating population rebounds after severe weather events. Given the current agricultural paradigm, and predicted changes in climatic conditions, it remains unknown whether effective management implementation can lead to reliable quail populations and facilitate long-term stability in hunter engagement, satisfaction, and participation. In a first step to addressing this issue, we propose to identify the mechanism by which climatic conditions impact quail and the means by which management may overcome climatic constraints. Working with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission we aim to improve our understanding of how severe climatic events (e.g., snow storms, spring rains) alter quail physiology and behavioral decisions to impact population stability in Nebraska and to further develop management strategies aimed at offsetting these costs. Using an individualistic approach that considers the inherent trade-offs in life history, physiological, and behavioral expression, we hope to identify key constrains in population growth and management strategies that many ameliorate population cycles.