Upland birds adapt to habitat

Holly Shutt, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever

Predators of upland birds are often blamed for the population trends in pheasant and quail. Something to keep in mind is that upland birds have evolved with adaptations to help avoid predators which increase the survival rate of their nests.

Some of these adaptations include the coloration of the female — example is her camouflaged and cryptic coloration — and the ability to have multiple nests if their nests are destroyed. Using bobwhite quail as an example, they have been known to nest up to three to four times a year depending on the weather and habitat conditions.

While the prey have adaptations to help with predator avoidance, the predators have also evolved with adaptations that help them on their hunt. Some predators will hunt only specific species, while others are opportunistic and will eat anything that comes across their path during the day. Some examples of opportunistic predators include coyotes and hawks. Neither of these predators hunt for pheasants or quail exclusively.

Predator/prey populations tend to cycle together. When prey numbers are high, predators will be more abundant. In a natural ecosystem, predators are less abundant than the prey they eat. Predators and prey have evolved with each other; predators are dependent on the prey they eat.

However, the predator/prey relationships get altered when humans enter the picture. Human activity tends to alter many habitat types. Quite often predator habitat becomes more abundant with brush piles that they use for den sites. Also, alternative prey species, such as chickens and other domestic animals, can help keep the predator population healthy.

Weather and habitat plays a large role on the population trends of upland birds. While we can’t control the weather, we can play a part in making sure that there is good habitat on the ground for the birds to mitigate the impact of predators. When weather and habitat comes together, and both are in favorable conditions, you see an influx of birds that fall.

The important times of the year to think about habitat condition are in the spring and summer. Those are the only months of the year that upland birds are nesting and able to increase the population level.

This is why nesting habitat is so important. Nest selection for quail starts as early as April, with them picking areas that have broad-leafed plants, such as common ragweed, annual sunflowers, and many more.

Bunch grasses are also important for nest selection. Examples of bunch grasses are little blue stem and side oats grama. Broad-leafed plants are what chicks will use to hide from predators and they attracted the soft bodied bugs chicks needs. Bunch grasses are what they nest in to conceal their nest from predators.

In conclusion, predators will have some impact on upland bird populations, but having good habitat has a greater impact. Having the habitat will help mitigate the predator impact by concealing the birds and their nests, give the chicks the food and cover they needs, which will increase their population. Spring is the only time you grow your birds!

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