**This post is broken into two parts with a species account following the primary post**
A Short story from the field:
I’ll begin my quail story by telling you about a familiar theme of chasing snakes and lizards in remote West Texas but I’ll end it by sharing my excitement in recognizing a familiar West Texas denizen back home in the Hill Country.
Wait! Don’t worry; this isn’t another story about snakes. I promise.
My wife and I hauled off for a shot-gun weekend to the Trans Pecos where we hoped to add to my already impressive list of reptile and amphibian observations started the previous weekend. All of these observations were being added to a competitive survey project set up through the citizen science database and social media platform, iNaturalist (www.iNaturalist.com). After two days of intensive surveying and travel, Erin and I camped in the northern Davis Mountains along Madera Canyon. The following morning came too early for our liking and we got a late start hiking a high country trail. However, our timing was impeccable. At the trail head we spotted an adult male Montezuma Quail surveying the risks of our approach. We both have seen Montezumas on occasion but almost always at feeding stations at Davis Mountains State Park. Our current observation, a close discovery within a natural setting, turned out to be one of our most memorable with this species. I was able to capture a few photographs both showcasing the handsomeness of this individual and documenting the cryptic character of the species.
My exciting weekend lingered as I shared my observation with co-workers, friends, and fellow quail enthusiast. Montezuma are by no means rare in appropriate habitat but up-close and personal observations can be. My enthusiasm diminished as I continued through the workday doldrums of summer bird surveys. Not that they are boring but you can imagine the tedium of 40 plus early mornings counting birds during spring and early summer. However, my excitement peaked during another morning survey in south-central Edwards County. Along with the typical vireos, cardinals, sparrows, and orioles, I could make out the unmistakable calls of two Montezuma Quail. I was aware that remnant populations exist within the southern Edwards Plateau, relicts of a not to long ago period when the species ranged continuously, albeit maybe not abundantly, throughout much of Central Texas. Astounded, I recorded the calling birds to verify my observation and continued performing the survey. That is, until I later came upon one of the singing males standing brightly within the short grasses nearby. I fumbled with my iPhone and binoculars (not having a proper camera with me) and was able to get a single but diagnostic picture before the bird ran quickly into a nearby brush motte. I again shared the observation with all that were interested (and some that weren’t) and added my observation, with landowner permission, to the growing number of observations occurring on private properties throughout the bird’s range. My observation will be used to by research biologist working to determine the current range and abundance of Montezuma Quail throughout Texas. One of these biologists is a friend and I was able to visit with him about the bird’s status within the Edward’s Plateau.
My friend’s general feel is that these birds are more wide-spread within the southern Edwards Plateau than previously assumed and that their numbers may be increasing. Changing land use practices have trended in favor of more appropriate grazing intensities and brush management among upland mesas. These factors are likely contributing to recovery. These changes also highlight the importance of good land stewardship practices in conserving species of concern, particularly within poorly studied regions dominated by private lands. We agree that the coordination of regional landscape management is the biggest remaining hurdle to the restoration and re-colonization of Montezuma Quail throughout much of its former range.
Montezuma Quail (Crytonyx montezumae) Profile:
General look, build
- Largest of Texas’s quail; males are handsomely patterned with a vivid spotted pattern on the sides and chest, and a starkly contrasting mask of black and white; size and pattern differences exist between sexes (sexual dimorphism) with females less vividly patterned
Habitat association, map
- Two discrete regional populations in Texas; one within the Sky Island pine-oak-juniper savannahs of West Texas, the other within the oak-juniper-pine savannahs of the southern Edwards Plateau of Central Texas
- Ground foragers; use elongated claws to scratch soil while searching for seeds and tubers; diet includes grass and forb seeds, tubers, fruit (pricklypear cactus), insects, and limited green material
- Include opportunistic meso-carnivores (e.g. skunk, coyote, bobcat, javelina, and etc.), hawks, and snakes; depredation is compounded by poor range conditions (i.e. a combination of limited herbaceous cover and high amounts of closed-canopy brush)
- Overgrazing livestock (limited herbaceous cover)
- Brush management (heavy closed canopy brush encroachment)
- Erosion control
- Source-sink connectivity/wildlife corridors (poor connectivity between source population and favorable but unoccupied sink habitat)
- Alternative names: Mearn’s quail, fools quail
- Called fool’s quail because they will rely heavily upon their cryptic pattering and hold tight on the ground at approach of danger, only to flush after being very nearly approached
- Males use a unique buzz song used to attract females, exhibit ventriloquism with calls
- Rely heavily on regional rainfall patterns for food and brooding; summer monsoon rains of West Texas and the bimodal (Spring, late Summer) wet seasons of the Edwards Plateau
For more information on Montezuma Quail, check out the following links: