The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has conducted annual roadside quail surveys in August and October since 1990 to provide an index of annual population fluctuations. The number of quail observed are reported to provide an index of quail abundance and an indicator of reproductive success.
ODWC employees surveyed 81 routes in 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, both almost exclusively urban landscapes, are excluded from the survey.
The state is divided into either geographic regions (Figure 1) or ecoregions (Figure 11) to compare the index year to year. By looking at both, biologists can get a more precise view of on-the-ground conditions in each county, and hunters can get a better glimpse into the county they intend to hunt.
The 2023 August roadside quail survey shows the statewide quail index up 45.8 percent from 2022, climbing from 1.53 to 2.23 quail per route (q/r) which is 55.6 percent below the 34-year average (Table 1 and Figure 2), and 28.3 percent below the 10-year average of 3.11. There are several theories as to what has caused population decline, but it is primarily attributed to habitat loss and weather.
Age structure of observed birds shows 65.2 percent full-grown, 10.5 percent three-fourths-grown, 17.7 percent half-grown, and 6.6 percent one-fourth-grown birds. This age structure indicates successful early broods with females still nesting throughout the season. Last fall, the latest known hatch was documented from the wing-box program with a harvested bird hatching out around Sept. 19 in the northcentral region.
If favorable weather patterns continue into fall, it could lead to even better numbers in October’s survey. Additionally, ODWC biologists have received several reports of broods of varying ages throughout summer.
All regions of the state except the northcentral region improved from the 2022 survey. All regions, other than the northeast region, are currently well below their historical 34-year average (Figures 3-8). The past winter was fairly mild for Oklahoma, with only a few major systems that dropped temperatures below average, with the last major cold front arriving in early March. After three consecutive years of La Niña (warmer/dryer) weather patterns, this spring saw a transition to an El Niño (cooler/wetter) pattern, which generally ties to better quail numbers.