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Small Game Research and Management

Small game includes bobwhite quail, rabbits, and squirrels. LDWF conducts surveys to develop population indices and track population trends for these species. Using this information, managers set hunting seasons and regulations. LDWF conducts other research to improve management, offers technical assistance to improve small game habitat on public and private lands, and participates in various regional and national committees involved in monitoring and managing small game.

 


 

Quail

Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey show bobwhite quail populations in the southeast have declined by about 60% since 1966; in Louisiana, specifically, populations have declined by about 75%. Each year in late October and early November, LDWF surveys areas throughout the state to listen for and record coveys of quail. This fall survey illustrates a general downward trend for the species. LDWF also conducts annual hunter harvest surveys which provide hunter and harvest indices for population trends. The most recent harvest surveys estimate that approximately 800 quail hunters harvest approximately 2,500 wild quail each year in Louisiana, down significantly from decades past.

This population decline is primarily due to habitat degradation from past farming and intensive pine management. Reversing the downward trend in quail and other grassland bird populations is a long-term venture that requires the commitment and cooperation of numerous agencies, organizations, and most importantly, individual landowners to restore the ecosystems and habitat that are home to bobwhites and other species.

LDWF has joined 24 other states in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative to restore the species by managing habitat and monitoring populations.

LDWF and partners are engaged in a number of activities to restore bobwhite habitat and promote quail hunting:

  • Managing the 6,000-acre Quail Emphasis Area on the Vernon Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest in Vernon Parish with specific forest management objectives to improve bobwhite habitat. This area is also monitored every summer and fall to track bobwhite population changes
  • Providing technical assistance [***Link to private land management assistance***] to landowners seeking to manage and improve habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife. Assistance includes providing funding and guidance for prescribed burning, focusing on longleaf pine habitat creation and management with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, periodically conducting landowner workshops on management practices that favor bobwhites and other grassland birds, and making specialized native grassland drills and burn trailers available to landowners to aid them in their efforts to improve bobwhite habitat.
  • Engaging in regional efforts to improve habitat used by quail and other wildlife, such as the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture, East Gulf Coast Joint Venture, Texas/Louisiana Longleaf Taskforce, and West Louisiana Ecosystem Partnership. 
  • Conducting prescribed burns on approximately 2,000 acres each year on the Sandy Hollow and Lake Ramsay wildlife management areas to improve bobwhite habitat.
  • Establishing bird dog training areas on the Vernon Unit of Kisatchie National Forest (in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service) and on Sandy Hollow, Bodcau, Lake Ramsay, and Sherburne wildlife management areas. 

 

Rabbit

There are two species of rabbits in Louisiana: eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) and swamp rabbits (S. aquaticus). LDWF does not conduct specific population surveys for these species, but our annual hunter harvest survey provides hunter and harvest indices for population trends. The most recent surveys indicate that about 15,000 rabbit hunters harvest about 100,000 rabbits in Louisiana each year. Annual fluctuations in rabbit populations are due primarily to summer rainfall amounts and habitat quality. Rabbits can typically withstand heavy hunting pressure due to their high fecundity, i.e. they reproduce a lot. 

Rabbits prefer early successional habitat—areas dominated by grasses, vines, and/or brush at ground level. LDWF conducts a number of activities to manage habitat and promote hunting for rabbits:

  • Actively managing both forested and non-forested areas on wildlife management areas within the state to promote early successional habitat.
  • Providing technical assistance to private and other public landowners to manage and improve habitat for rabbits.
  • Establishing Small Game Emphasis Areas on select wildlife management areas to offer extended hunting seasons for small game hunters. These areas typically have management activities implemented specifically for small game species.
  • Working with partners such as the Bayou State Rabbit Hunters Federation and numerous field trial organizations to improve habitat and promote rabbit hunting throughout the state.
  • Issuing Field Trial Permits to numerous applicants each year, addressing the needs of rabbit hunters and promoting conservation of rabbit habitat.

 

Squirrel

Both the gray (Sciurus carolinensis) and fox (S. niger) squirrel are found throughout Louisiana. Both species are popular game with hunters. LDWF does not conduct specific population surveys for these species, but our annual hunter harvest survey provides indices for population trends. The most recent surveys indicate that about 50,000 squirrel hunters harvest about 750,000 squirrels in Louisiana each year.

In general, squirrels benefit from habitat containing mature, mast-producing trees and vines. (Mast is fruit of forest trees and shrubs, such as acorns and other nuts.) In the absence of major habitat modifications, year-to-year fluctuations in squirrel populations are due primarily to the prior year's mast crop. LDWF conducts a number of activities to manage habitat and promote hunting for squirrels:

  • Actively managing forests on wildlife management areas to promote diverse, healthy, mast-producing forests.
  • Providing technical assistance to private and other public landowners to manage and improve habitat for squirrels
  • Establishing Small Game Emphasis Areas on select wildlife management areas to offer extended hunting seasons for small game hunters. These areas typically have management activities implemented specifically for small game species.
  • Working with partners such as the Bayou State Squirrel Dog Association and Stateline Treedog Association to improve habitat and promote squirrel hunting throughout the state.
  • Issuing Field Trial Permits to numerous applicants each year, addressing the needs of squirrel hunters and promoting conservation of squirrel habitat.
  • Conducting research on squirrel populations in Louisiana, including an ongoing project to determine home range size and describe habitats used by Bachman’s fox squirrels (Scirus niger bachmani) in southeast Louisiana.