SAN ANGELO–Thousands of quail hunters will pursue bird dogs this fall hoping to bag a limit of bobwhite quail for the dinner table. A San Angelo- based wildlife specialist would be interested at looking those that may not make the frying pan.
“If anyone finds a quail that appears sick, I’d be interested in it,” says Dr. Dale Rollins of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
“We know woefully little about the significance of disease in wild quail populations, primarily because we don’t find sick quail very often,” he says. A sick quail doesn’t last long before some predator finds it.
“A quail carcass rarely last longer than eight hours in the field, so it’s not like you see dead quail lying around, even if there was a massive die-off.”
Quail lead a perilous, and usually brief, life. Drought, winter storms, predators and habitat loss are the primary culprits, but other factor may also play a role.
Rollins says that even though he’s been trained to discount the impact of disease in free-ranging quail populations, he remains curious about quail epidemiology.
“The blue (scaled) quail population over most of west Texas is a small portion of what it was just eight years ago and I don’t think that weather conditions were the only factor responsible,” he says.
Rollins has been investigating reports of sick quail ever since, but is forced to rely upon circumstantial observations more than post- mortem specimens.
“Most hunters who find a quail that appears to be sick simply discard the bird,” he says.
“There’s always talk about ‘coccidiosis’ anytime the quail population is down. I don’t think coccidiosis per se is the culprit, but I’m curious about what pathogens might be involved.”
A diseased quail might show symptoms of diarrhea-stained feathers near the vent, malnourishment or discolored livers. “If you’re cleaning quail and notice a liver that looks like pickle loaf instead of the normal dark red color, put the bird on ice and give me a call,” he says.
Rollins says that each year some hunters report the presence of “small cysts that look like rice grains” on the quail’s breast muscle. He says these are parasitic larvae that don’t do the quail any harm, but develop in a coyote or bobcat that might eat the quail. The specialist says that ideally the bird should be placed on ice or refrigerated, but not frozen. However, if the bird can’t be examined in a two or three day period, he suggests freezing it for later examination.
Anyone finding diseased quail is urged to contact Dr. Rollins at (915) 653-4576 in San Angelo.