Small Game Program

The Small Game Program involves management, research and population monitoring activities for bobwhite quail, mourning dove, woodcock, ring-necked pheasants, snipe, rabbits, and squirrels. Personnel also develop and participate in the wild turkey research conducted by the Department. In addition, the biologists administer the falconry and hunting preserve programs. Fred Kimmel, Upland Game Study Leader, coordinates the Upland Game Program.

In order to meet public demands for small game, the Small Game Program offers technical assistance to improve habitat on public and private lands. Program biologists also conduct research to assess and improve management. Several population monitoring surveys are conducted by regional and program biologists to develop population indices and track population trends of upland game species.  Personnel also represent the Department on various committees which are involved in monitoring and formulating regional and national programs which may have impacts on upland game wildlife.

NORTHERN BOBWHITE

Population Status
Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey show bobwhite quail populations in Louisiana have declined by about 75% since 1966. The Department's fall surveys also illustrate a general downward trend. This is due primarily to habitat degradation. Clean farming techniques in the agricultural regions of the state have all but eliminated quail from these areas. Intensive pine management that features short-rotation densely stocked monoculture pine stands and infrequent prescribed burning has reduced quail populations in the forested upland regions of Louisiana. In addition, a number of unusually dry summers in recent years has resulted in poor reproduction and exacerbated the effects of habitat degradation. However, much of the habitat loss occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. As a consequence, in recent years the population indices have been more stable and influenced primarily by summer weather conditions.

Quail and Grassland Bird Task Force
In an effort to address long-term population declines in bobwhite quail and other birds dependent on grassland habitat, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has formed the Louisiana Quail and Grassland Bird Task Force.  This task force is composed of representatives from nearly 20 agencies or organizations

In his remarks to the group, Secretary Dwight Landreneau noted that partnerships and interagency cooperation are crucial to effectively address the myriad of issues facing bobwhites and grassland birds.  Factors such as clean farming, short-rotation intensive pine management, lack of prescribed burning, and use of sod-forming pasture grasses have negatively impacted quail and grassland bird habitat.

Since 1967, Louisiana's bobwhite quail populations have declined by approximately 75%.  Louisiana is not the only state where bobwhites have declined precipitously.  Bobwhite populations across the southeastern U.S. have declined by about 60%.  This downward trend is not limited to bobwhite quail.  Other species that require similar habitat such as eastern meadowlark and loggerhead shrike have also exhibited significant population declines.

In response to this situation, a plan known as the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative was developed under the auspices of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 2002.  This plan established habitat restoration goals across the range of bobwhite quail.  This national plan has been instrumental in focusing attention on the plight of bobwhite quail and has served as catalyst for development of state initiatives such as Louisiana's.

One of the first jobs of the Louisiana Quail and Grassland Bird Task Force will be to develop a state plan to define goals and identify strategies for quail and grassland bird habitat restoration in Louisiana.  The state plan will serve as a blueprint for efforts to reverse declining bobwhite quail and grassland bird population trends in Louisiana. 

There are a variety of programs available through federal and state agencies that provide technical and financial assistance to landowners willing to implement practices beneficial to quail and grassland birds.  In addition to developing a state plan, the Louisiana Quail and Grassland Bird Task Force will be involved in efforts to inform landowners and promote participation in these conservation programs.

Reversing the downward trend in quail and grassland bird populations will not happen overnight.  This is a long-term venture that will require the commitment and cooperation of numerous organizations, agencies, and most importantly, individual landowners.  The Louisiana Quail and Grassland Bird Task Force represents a new approach in Louisiana to addressing the plight of bobwhite quail and grassland birds.  Agencies and organizations will be working together in a coordinated effort to restore the ecosystems and habitat that are home to bobwhite quail and many other species

Notes
A statewide quail population survey is conducted each fall. This survey is used to develop an index to the quail population for various habitat regions throughout Louisiana. Approximately fifty 19-mile routes are run throughout the state in late October and early November. The routes are randomly located in 5 major habitat types.

An evaluation of habitat management for quail is being conducted on the Jackson-Bienville WMA. LSU researchers with support of LDWF are investigating the relationships between various forest management tools/strategies and quail abundance.

To help determine bobwhite quail survival rates, harvest rates, nesting success, habitat use and movements, 178 bobwhites were radio-tagged and 245 were banded over several years on the Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area. Findings include:

  • Only 6.4% of bobwhites survive over 1 year. Most of the mortality was due to predators, both avian and mammalian.
  • Overall, less than 1 in 12 birds were taken by hunters and hunters harvested birds from less than 1/3 of the coveys. However, when a covey was found, about 1 in 5 birds were bagged. Both harvest rates (with crippling loss also considered) are within the recommended 30% value for the South.
  • Quail move considerable distances in the fall and spring. One covey moved over 3 miles and movements of 1 mile were common.

As a response to interest in releasing pen-reared bobwhites for population enhancement by some users of the Sandy Hollow WMA and quail hunters in general, 33 pen-reared female bobwhites were radio-tagged and released in groups on the area in good habitat and provided supplemental food and water. Within 3 days, 52% of the birds were dead and by the 12th day, 84% had died. Within 2 weeks, 97% of the birds were dead. Most of the mortality was due to predation. This study affirms the general principal that most pen-reared quail fare poorly when released into the wild. The potential problems caused by pen-reared introductions, such as disease introduction, outweigh the marginal benefits.

From 1984-2000, almost 8,500 wings were collected from hunters to determine production indices for quail and peak hatch periods.  Average chicks per adult hen was relatively high (greater than 6), but it varied greatly between years due to weather. Quail wings highlight the importance of July and August to quail production in Louisiana. 

National Farm Policy often shape quail and other farm wildlife habitat.  Many Farm Bill issues are currently being considered in Washington. The Wildlife Society maintains a website with up-to-date Farm Bill issues.

Links of Interest
Quail Unlimited

SQUIRRELS and RABBITS

Population Status
Specific population surveys are not conducted for these species; however, the Department's annual hunter harvest survey provides indices to population trend. Seasonal rabbit harvest per hunter has remained stable from 1986-97 while seasonal squirrel harvest per hunter has declined slightly during the same period. It is likely that increased conversion of hardwood forests and stream bottoms to pine forests and poor mast crops have contributed to lower squirrel hunter success. In the absence of major habitat modifications, year to year fluctuations in rabbit and squirrel populations are due primarily to summer rainfall amounts in the case of rabbits and prior year's mast crop in the case of squirrels.

Notes
Louisiana has 2 species of rabbits: eastern cottontails and swamp rabbits.  Although the cottontail is considered more of an upland species and the swamp rabbit a wetland (wooded) species, both species occur within our coastal areas.

Rabbits can high productive rates in Louisiana when habitat and weather conditions are good.  Adult cottontails may have as many as 6 litters per year and young of the year may contribute another 25% to the production.

Upland game biologists monitored rabbit population response to rotational burning regimes on an old field alluvial site on Sherburne WMA for 6 years.  Rabbit use suggested that 2 or 3 year burning cycles were optimal for rabbits.

Louisiana has 2 species of squirrels: gray squirrels and fox squirrels.  However, there are 2 recognized subspecies of gray squirrels and 3 subspecies of the fox squirrel.  In addition, melanistic (black) color phases in each species.

In good production years, adult squirrels will have 2 litters--one in the spring and one in the late summer.

PHEASANTS
  
Population Status
Several attempts have been made by the Department to establish ring-necked pheasant populations in southwest Louisiana. In the 1960s, pen-reared pheasant releases were unsuccessful. In the late 1970s, wild-trapped pheasants from Texas were released. These also did not result in viable populations. In the early 1980s, wild-trapped pheasants from California were released and thrived, at least for a while. The population has expanded sufficiently to allow a hunting season in a portion of southwest Louisiana. But, because of the limited area and lack of access, hunter participation was very light.

Pheasant season was closed following several consecutive low population counts.  Many newly released species experience rapid expansion followed by declines.  It is not currently known if this is the phenomena observed on our pheasants or simply the result of several bad nesting seasons due to weather extremes--drought and flooding.

Links of Interest
Pheasants Forever

MOURNING DOVE

Population Monitoring
Region Wildlife Division and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists monitor Louisiana's breeding mourning dove population along 19 randomly selected routes throughout the state in late May by counting cooing doves. The survey is used as an index to dove populations in Louisiana and, together with other states' surveys, for the nation.

Population trend of resident breeding mourning doves in Louisiana has been stable since 1966. Year to year variations may occur due to weather and other environmental influences. However, since doves are migratory, the number of doves found in Louisiana, particularly late in the hunting season, is influenced by population trends in other production states. Dove populations have been stable during the last 10 years in the eastern U.S.

Notes
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries along with 25 other states' fish and wildlife agencies began a 3-year banding study this past summer (2003).  Its objectives are to determine harvest rates, estimate annual survival, provide information on the geographical distribution of the harvest and develop and refine techniques for a future operational dove banding program.  We banded almost 1,300 doves in Louisiana this year and it's expected that over 85,000 doves will be banded by all states during the course of the study.  Hunters are a critical link to the mourning dove study.  By reporting your banded doves, you help us manage this important migratory bird.  If you harvest a banded mourning dove, please call 1-800-327-BAND (2263) to report it.

Region and Program personnel work together to enhance dove hunting opportunities on WMAs by manipulating native vegetation or Dove Field Management. They also coordinate leasing of private land by LDWF for public dove hunts.

Upland Game and Region biologists provide technical assistance to numerous landowners on the most effective and legal means to prepare dove fields for hunting. They also prepare and distribute educational materials to inform land managers about dove field preparation and management. Program personnel assisted LSU Cooperative Extension Service in developing a planting guideline for wildlife food plots.

Other Dove Notes:
There are currently at least 5 other different species of dove breeding in Louisiana:  Ground, Inca, white-winged, rock (common pigeons), and Eurasian collared-doves.  The latter is an exotic that is rapidly spreading across the south.  At this time, the impact of the Eurasian collared-doves on mourning doves is unknown.  It is larger and more aggressive than the native mourning dove.

Links of Interest:
Eurasian collared-dove

WOODCOCK

Population Status
Woodcock populations have been decreasing across North America. It is difficult to quantify the rate of decline because woodcock do not lend themselves to traditional survey techniques. However, the only index of breeding woodcock populations, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Singing Ground Survey, indicates about 1.5% and 2.5% declines per year in the central and eastern U.S., respectively, since 1968. The declining woodcock population is thought to be due primarily to loss of early successional habitat (primarily aspen) in the northern breeding ground states. However, because Louisiana is at the end of the flyway, this population decline is not always evident. Louisiana's wintering woodcock population is influenced primarily by weather. Louisiana will usually have high numbers of wintering woodcock during cold, wet winters.

Notes
Upland Game biologists have been involved in a woodcock banding project on Sherburne WMA/ Atchafalaya NWR since 1990. This project is designed to determine woodcock harvest rates from a heavily hunted area. Since most woodcock habitat is hunted lightly or not hunted at all, this would represent a "worst case" and not a typical situation. To date, over 2,000 woodcock have been banded.  Raw woodcock harvest rates on this complex range from less than 1% to slightly more than 10%.

Woodcock hunting and band recovery data are collected from woodcock hunters on Sherburne WMA and Atchafalaya NWR via mandatory self-clearing check stations. These data are used to monitor woodcock harvest, hunter success, and hunt characteristics.

Banding at Sherburne WMA/Atchafalaya NWR has illustrated that  woodcock are longer lived relative to quail and that the birds hold a good degree of fidelity to their wintering grounds. Each year, 5-15 birds captured from prior banding seasons are recaptured. Most birds at recapture are 1-2 years old. However, several birds over 4 years old have been recaptured. About 60% of the birds banding in 1 year and recaptured in another were caught in the same field as originally banded.  One bird was caught 3 times in 3 different years, but in the same field.

Although woodcock are technically shorebirds, young forests and scrub/thickets that are moist compose their daytime habitat. It is at dusk, when woodcock frequently fly to open fields and clearcuts, and during the night when they feed in these areas that they illustrate habits more typically associated with other shorebirds.  The Cajun Becasse Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society has funded some of the management activities on the Sherburne WMA/Atchafalaya NWR that are beneficial to woodcock as well as a host of other wildlife species. Woodcock in the Southeast: Natural History & Management for Landowners is an excellent reference publication.

Program personnel participate in the annual woodcock wing-bee. This is a gathering of biologists that age and sex approximately 10,000 woodcock wings submitted by hunters each year from throughout the U.S. Indices to production, hunter success, and harvest characteristics are determined. This information is used to monitor trends in woodcock population and harvest on a statewide, regional, and national level. The Department hosts
the wingbee about every 5 years.