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Full text of "Quail and pheasant studies in an orchard county"

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"LI B R.AFLY 

OF THE 
UNIVLRSITY 
or ILLINOIS 



NATURAL HISTORY 
SURVEY. 



state of Illinois 
Henry Horner, Governor 

Department of Registration and Education 
John J. Hallilian, Director 



QUAIL AND PHEASANT STUDIES IN AN ORCHARD COUNTY 



Frank C. Eellrose, Jr. 



Published by Authority of the State of Illinois 

NATURAL HISTORY SURVEY 
Theodore H. Prison, Chief 

Biological Notes No. 13 Urbana , Illinois May, 1940 



QUAIL AND PHEASANT STUDIES IN AN ORCHARD COUNTY 

Frank C. Bellrose, Jr.'"'" 
Illinois Natural History Survey 

In the summer of 1938, nesting studies and population 
estimates v/ere made of quail and pheasants in the lower third of 
Calhoun County, Illinois. V/hile some cruising of orchards and hay 
fields was undertaken to locate nests, most of the information on 
which these studies are based was obtained by interviewing farmers, 
during haying operations, in the field. Data were obtained on the 
number of acres of various farmi crops , dates of mowing of forage 
crops, and number of quail and pheasant nests found. 

These studies were extensive rather than intensive and 
were designed to shed some light on choice of nesting cover, nest- 
ing losses due to m.owing, and relative density of quail and pheas- 
ants in one of the better Illinois quail counties. It is well 
knov;n that farmers engaged in cutting operations often overlook the 
nests of upland gam.e birds, but the number of such nests overlooked 
in Calhoun County is thought to be less than in most other parts of 
the Middle V.'est because of the small fields and the scarcity of 
tractor-drawn mov/ers and ralces in this county. 

Calhoun County consists principally of a long, narrow 
strip of rolling land between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, 
extending about 40 miles from north to south, with an average width 
of 8 miles. Underlying the surface soil is a narrow lim.estone ridge, 
elevated 200 to 300 feet above the rivers and flanked on either side 
by their alluvial bottoms. Over this limestone ridge have been de- 
posited m.aterials of the Quaternary Period, consisting of clays, 
gravel and loess, which cover the ridge to a depth of 50 to 100 feet. 

Form.erly heavily forested with oaks, hickories and maples, 
the upland area has been cleared of m.ost of its native stand and 
planted to apples, hay crops and grains. However, small woodlots 
abound, and brushy fencerows and roadsides are the rule rather than 
the exception. These form, an ideal interspersion of cover types. 
Little corn is grown, but an excellent supply of the lesser ragv^reed 
and other natural foods exists along fencerov/s , woodlots, roadsides, 
creek banks and elsewhere. 



-:;-The writer is indebted to Arthur S. Hawkins, who super- 
vised this study, giving m.any helpful suggestions and criticisms. 

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Nesting cover in Callioim County, table i, can td classified 
according to four major types; (1) roadsides snd fencerov;s, (P) ap- 
ple orchards, (3) hay fields and (4) graiii fields. Foadside t.nd 
fencerow nesting cover is furnished largely b""' such plants as blue 
grass ( Poa praete nsis ) ^ v/ild lettuce (Lactuca b\^.)j daisy fleaoane 
( Srygeron sp. ) , blacl:beri-y (Rubus sp.) and" srnoouh sumac (R1tu_s glabra ',. 

Apple orchards, ranging in size from 1 acre to aoout 300 
acres, abound on the rolling hills and provide more acreage of quail 
nesting cover than any of the othei' three types. Sines most of the 
orchards are on rolling tei'rain, it is coranon practice t:. retard 
erosion by seeding betv/een the trees with a miv.ture of red clover, 
blue grass and brome grass. This practice has, of course, greatly 
increased the quality of nesting cover in many orchards. In other 
orchards, where invasion of vegetation inco bai-'i areas is allcv.ad to 
take place, forbs and other coarse herbs predominate in the giound 
cover. To facilitate spraying and pick_ng of apples, fruit gi cv;ers 
generally cut the herbaceous \indergrov;th .in m.ldsujniiier . Luring the 
1938 season, hov/ever, because of tne poor crop of apples, less than 
50 per cent of the orchards were mov/ed; so poor in fact v^as the 
apple crop that many orchards v«ere sprayed only once. 

On the 70 or more farms studied in the lo\vOi thf rd of 
Calhoun County in 1935, hay was grown on l,c37 aores , rso clover, he 
most important hay crop, on 1^163 acretj alfalfa, the Soccna in irr - 
portance, on 249 acres; sv/eet clover, on 175 acres. V/heal gro.vn jn 
39 farms , comp-rlsed 95 per cent of the aci'cage of small gi p iru- . It 
aggregated 1,568 acres. 

B0B7/HITS QUAIL 

Clean farming, as practiced in the Eig Pi-airie district of 
Illinois, has greatly restricted the range of the bobwhite quail. At 
present, good quail territory is found largely along the bluffs of 
the Illinois and Llississippi rivers and :n the hill and tight subsoil 
regions of southern Illinois. Calhoun County combines many of the 
habitat characteristics of the river bluff and the liiil countries, 
making it especially favorable to quail., 

Roadside Nes ting 

Roadsides aggregating approxi-'»iately 20 m.iles in length, 
about 25 acres in area, v/ere cut by a local tovnship comjnissiorier be- 
tween May 27 and July 15. Cursory observation indicated that approx- 
im.ately tv/o-thirds of this area, 16 acres, v/as suitable for nesting 
cover. Table 1 shows the relative density of quail nests in these 
16 acres of cut roadside cover as compared to the density in other 
cover types. No data on uncut roadside cover :vt;re obtained. 

Of the four nests found along the mowed roadside, three 
Vi/ere in cL.umps of blue grass; the other was in a patch of fweet 
clover. Two nests were deserted because of mowing; one nest hatched. 
In one instance the fe.,iale returned to the nest only to have it 
destroyed by a predator, probably a dog. 



■ orchar d Nestin g 

In 1958, of the 2,635 acres of grounu cover in apple 
orchards on the 70 Calhoun County farms visited, 1,000 acres were 
mowed. The numher of. acres of orchard ground cover mowed is re- 
ported to vary considerably from year to year; It depends on the 
crop of apples and the luxui'iance of the herbaceous xegeoation. 
Fewer acres than usual were cut in 1938. : Moreover, orchards that 
were mowed contained m.any scattered patches of uncut vegetation. 
The number of quail nests reported in the 1,000 acren of mowed nest- 
ing cover in orchards is shovm in table 1. 

Despite some disturbance by the mxwer, 11 birds i-et^/rned 
to their nests. Nests of two of these birds were subsequently de- 
stroyed by predators, but nine nests hatclied. Each ol the 11 incu- 
bating birds flushed ahead of the sickle bar, prompting the oreratc".'" 
to raise the bar sufficiently to leave an island of vegetation 
around the nest. Thirteen nests were destroyed by the mov.er. The 
outcome of one nest v/as not determined. 

In every Instance, quail nests in apple orchards v/ere 
located in the open areas betv/een the rov;s of trees . respite care- 
ful search, not one nest was found near the base of a tree; dlsT;ancss 
fromi nest to nearest tree trunk varied from. 8 to 25 feet .. v^'ith an 
average of 12 feet. The growth In the open areas evidently of Pert 
better nesting cover than the sparse vegetation underneath the tree 
canopy, where there is a deficiency of stinlight. 

Of the 25 nests found in orchards, 3 were in red cl'^/er, 
18 v/ere in a m.lxture of blue grass and daisy fleabane, and 1 was on 
the bare ground, being roofed over v/ith dead blue-grass stems. 

Hayf leld Ne_s_tlri£ 

Red Clover. --Of the 70 Calhoun County farms visited, 50 
produced red clover on a total of 1,163 acres. Seven hundred fifty 
acres were cut for hay; 413 were noo mowed. The 413 unmov/ed acres 
were com.blned for seed in late August, Data on the first cutting of 
red clover are given In table 2 



,ijj t 



The first bcbwhite quail nest was not found until Kay 27, 
but hatching dates given in table 2 Indicate that part of the quail 
population, despite a cool, rainy spring, started nesting early in 
May. From data presented in table 2, it is evident that a mmber of 
quail nests escaped destruction by hatching previous to co^iipietion 
of the first cutting of alfalfa and of red clover. 



i 



Eelatlve numbers of nests in rod clover as compared with 
those In other kinds of hay crops are given in table 1. Nest do- i 
structlon In all but two cases was due directly to mov/ing. There are! 
two records of incubating birds returning to their nGsts--doubtlessly ' 
because an Island of cover was left about the ncsts--to hatch the 
Gggs , In another instance, a nest was deserted -despite the Island of^, 
clover left about It . ' " 



I 



7 



Tabic 2. --Data on nowlng of rod clover and alfalfa and 
hatching of quail nests, Calhoun County, Illinois, 193o, 



Date 



Per Cent of 
Red Clover 

ITov/ed 



May 16-23 

24-31 
June 1-8 
9-16 

17-24 
June 25-July 2 
July 3-10 

11-18 

19-23 



Per Cent of Alfalfa L''owod 
First Cutting Second Cuttin g 



0.6 

13.0 
75.0 

11.4 



4.4 
60.0 
35.6 



8.3 
76.7 
15.0 



Number of 

Nests 

Hatc hed 



3 

4 

2 



6 

3 

1 

1 



Alfalfa. --Forty-three farms produced 249 acres of alfalfa. 
Forty-tv/o acres escaped early cutting, but by mid July all but 6 
acres had been mowed at least once. Table 2 shov;s the first cutting 
extending from May 16 to June 8; the second cutting extended from 
June 23 to July 16. It should be noted that the peak of the first 
cutting v;as reached 2 v/eelcs earlier in alfalfa than in red clover. 

When the dates of alfalfa mowing arc compared with those 
for the hatching of 20 quail nests, table 2, it' is apparent that 
only a small percentage of nests hatched previous to completion of 
the first mov/ing and that fev; renesting birds would escape nest 
destruction by the second cutting. 

The number of bobwhite nests found in alfalfa, as compared 
to those in other types of cover, is given in table 1. Tv/enty-four 
nests in alfalfa v^ere destroyed or deserted as a result of mov^ing. 
However, there is one case of a quail returning to a cut-over nest 
to hatch the eggs. 

Sweet Clover. --In 1938, sv;cet clover was grown on 15 farms, 
where it totaled 175 acres. Eighty-four acres of this were cut; the 
remaining 91 acres were left for use as a soil conserver and soil 
builder. Dates of mowing of this, crop ranged from May 27 to July 2, 
with a mean of June 15. Of the tv\fo nests discovered in this cover, 
both v/ere destroyed by mowing. A small percentage of quail nests 
reached the hatching stage before the peak of cutting of sv>feet clover 
in mid June . 



8 



Grain Field Nesting 

ViTieat was grown on 1,368 acres of the farms studied in 
Calhoun County in 1938. Infonnation was obtained on 1,072 of t.hei^e 
acres cut by binders and combines. Despite cruising by the author 
in one wheat field and the vigilance of many farmers, only tv/o quail 
nests v/ere located in this cover type, for a density of one nest in 
551 acres. In both instances the incubating birds returned to their 
nests in the stubble. One nest hatched about June 30; the other v/as 
still being incubated on July 18. The first nest v/as situated in a 
wheat field in which red clover had been sowed; the clover furnished 
added nesting cover. The second nest was partly under a shock of 
wheat bundles. 

From the low nesting density in v/heat fields, it appears 
that small grains are little utilized for nesting purposes by bob- 
vifhites . This fact is most unfortunate, inasmuch as small grains 
offer safer nesting sites than do hay fields. In Calhoun County, in 
1938, the first wheat fields were not cut until June 18, the peak 
not being reached until June 27. The hatching data presented in 
table 2 indicate that about half of the quail nests hatched previou.s 
to the first activity of the reaper. 

Miscellaneous Nesting Cover 

In this category are placed those nesting cover types that 
are small and restricted in habitat and that occur in waste corners 
of fields, pastures and v/oodlots . 

One nest was found on June 2 among the stubble of a field 
that had been in corn the previous year. Situated in a small clump 
of grass ( Hordeum sp.) and smartweeds ( Polygonum sp.), it was 
destroyed by plowing. 

Raspberry and dewberry patches harbored six nests. In each 
instance, however, these nests were among the blue grass grov/ing with 
the briers. Three of the nests were destroyed by predators, two 
hatched, and the outcome of one was not determined. 

Tv>fo nests were found in pastures. Both were located in a 
mixture of blue grass and daisy f leabane . Although the roof of one 
nest was rapioved in mowing, the female returned to incubate, and the 
eggs hatched. The other nest was destroyed by crows. 

Nest Loss 

Nest loss of quail was greatest in alfalfa, v/here only a 
small percentage of nests escaped by hatching before the mower de- 
stroyed them. Since, of all crops, alfalfa showed the highest nest 
density and highest nest mortality, this crop form.ed an important 
hazard to the quail of Calhoim County. 



Red clover v/as not nearly so hazardous a nesting cover as 
alfalfa.. Fewer birds v/ere attracted to red clover. Eecsuse c^ the 
later Kov/lng of this crop, early nests escaped aestmction, and, 
furthermore, approximately 30 per cent of this' crop v<as not mov/ed. 

Oi-chards offurcd, in 1938, safci' nesting sites than did any 
other type of ai'ea under cultivation in the southerTi part of Calhoun 
County. Less than 50 per cent of the orchard acreage ",vas mowed. Of 
the quail nests in oi-chards , 36 per cent hatched, despite the mowing, 
in some instances, of the immediate surroundings. V/hile inconclusive, 
because meager, data at hand indicate that raspberry and wild dew- 
berry patches and other v/aste places v;ero safer nesting habitats than 
orchards; I'oadsldes were less safe. 

V/lntcr Fopiilation 

In an tffort to secure some idea of the abundance of upland 
game during the v/inter of 1957-38, the author interviewed farmers as 
to the n-umber of quail coveys and pheasants on their farms. Because 
the county contains small farms, averaging 80 acres, and because most 
farmers there are active hunters, the author believes that a rough 
but fairly accurate measurement was obtained. On 10,619 rcros^ 1&7 
quail coveys were reported, about one covey pei- 57 acres ^ Undo\ibt d- 
ly som.e coveys wore reported more than once and some oov37s unre- 
ported. Inasmuch as 10 birds per covey is a conservati'/e average in 
that locality, the probable population in the winter cf 1 '37-38 wo s 
about one qii.ail per 6 acres . 

Despite heavy nesting losses in mowed areas, Calhonn County 
had in the fall of 1938^ as in 'the autumji of 1937, a good stand cf 
quail. This is especial]^y rem.arkable in view of the disastrous 
v;inter of 1935-36 v/hich, according to apparently reliable reports - 
reduced bobv/hites to r relatively lov; population in the locality. 
Undoubtedly the rapid recovery was due in largo part to successful 
nesting in apple orch'M-ds with uncut cover crops, red clover fields 
many of .them unmolested until after hatching time, f enccrows , and 
raspberry ^nd dewberry patches. 

RING-NECICED PIIEASANT 

According to Mr. Robert Meyer, a lifelong resident and 
hunter in Calhoun County, the first ring-necked pheasants, a dozen 
birds, v.'ere released there about 1913. Liberations of pheasants by 
the State Department of Conservation between 1923 and 1937 cmcuntcd 
to 688 birds; the largest number released in any one year was 153 in 
1936. 

There was in 1938 a density of approximately one pheasant 
per 40 acres. This figure is based on a reported 251 birds on 10,025 
acres covering 55 farms. The number is surprisingly high in view of 
the fact that in Calhoun County the pheasant is reaching the southern 
extremity of its range and that much of the land there is not devoted 
to grain crops . 



Nest Dens Ity 

In 1958, 16 pheasant nests v/ere I'ecorded on 2,077 acres of 
orchard and hay crops in Calhoun County. On 7E0 acres of mowed red 
clover tliere v;ere five nests, a density of one nest per 150 acres. 
Five pheasant nests v/ere recorded on 243 acres of cut alfalfa for a 
density of one nest per 43 acres . Sighty-four acres of sv.-eet clover 
contained tviro nests, one nest per 4.2 acres. On 1,000 acres of xnO'Wed 
ground cover in orchards there v/ere four pheasant nests, a density 
of one nest per 250 acres. 

r.lng-neclced pheasants reached a nest density in alfalfa 
relatively high for Calhoun County. 3v/eet clover contained a larger 
nT-imher of nests per acre, hut the acraage involved is considered too 
small to be reoresentative . 



Mort _ality 

Two- of the foLir pheasant nests in orchards hatched; one of 
the five nests in red clover hatched; not one of the five nests in 
alfalfa v;as successful; and both nests found in sweet clover .fD.clds 
were destroyed. All known pheasant ziesting losses i7ei;'e the direct 
result of rowing. One nest v;as successful in red c'.over; it hatch :.d 
before the field was moi/red. Two nesting hons and one adult cock 
pheasant were killed in the mowing, of 84 acres of sv/eet clover. 

Like the bobwhlto, pheasants attained a higher nesting s^.x- 
cess in orchards than in any other area under culti'.'ation. A„ff-lia 
proved to be an important hazard to the nesting s\;c :.03s of the 
pheasant through its attractiveness to nesting birds .and tne ens-jing 
heavy mortality of nosts due to mowing. 

MANAGEMENT REG OMI'EIOAT IONS 

Although this study deals largely with conditions in 
Calhoun County, the writer believes that some of tho principles set 
forth in this paper are applicable to regions elsewhere, partici.;larly 
where apples predominate among the farm crops . 

The quail population In Calhoun County and many southern 
counties is high, but a few simple m;anagemcnt practices, that are re- 
lated to nesting and that can be correlated v;ith sound farm.ing 
practices, might makc.it oven higher. The same practices may reason- 
ably be expected to benefit the pheasant population. 

Apple orchards offer the greatesb possibilities for In- 
creasing the nesting success of bobwhltes and pheasants in Calhoun 
County. It is comjnonly recognized that mowing in many orchards takes 
place when there is a lull in other farm activities. If, without In- 
convcnierco, cutting of the ground cover v/erc delayed until after 
July 4, the majority of the quail nests in orchards v/ould escape 
destruction from mowing. Such a delay seems feasible, especially in 
those orchards containing varieties of apples not picked until late 
Aup-ust or Se-Dt ember. 



11 



Leaving uncut areas along margins and in corners of 
orchards v/ould prevent destruction of many quail nests. It would be 
especially beneficial if the same areas in orchards were left uncut 
year after year, since early-nesting quail are attracted by the 
previous year's vegetation. 

A number of Calhoun County farmers reported that they 
avoided damage to quail nests by raising the sickle bar as high as 
practicable before they started mowing. Many of the nests, placed 
as quail nests usually are in cup-shaped depressions, were not 
touched by the m.ower with the sickle thus raised. In almost every 
case in which the nest v/as not touched, the bird returned. Some 
farmers prevented destruction of nests by raising the sickle bar by 
means of the hand lever when quail flushed in front of the mov/er. 

Although there is a considerable loss of quail nests along 
roadsides, these areas are attractive to nesting birds and should be 
considered in any plan to increase the quail population. Many miles 
of country roadside v/ere m.owed in 1938 to im.prove the appearance and 
to control weed plants. However, the vegetation of many roadsides 
consists of grasses and other herbaceous vegetation which are not 
v/eeds and which do not detract from the appearance. Farmers and 
township road comm.issioners may find it feasible to leave stretches 
of roadside unmolested, or at least to postpone mowing until after 
July 4, a date past the peak of the quail nesting season in Calhoun 
and neighboring counties. 



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