Winter habitat selection, movement and survival of scaled quail in the Trans-Pecos, Texas

Caleb L. Hughes, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Justin T. French, Louis A. Harveson, and Ryan S. Luna

Scaled quail (Callipepla squamata) have experienced population declines across their range in the last several decades. This population decline is partially attributed to habitat degradation, as habitat loss reduces available resources for food, water, and shelter. This becomes critical during winter in the Trans-Pecos, where low food availability and cold weather make habitat resources essential for withstanding winter weather events. In addition, juvenile recruitment and available brood stock for the following nesting season are negatively affected by winter mortality, making winter a potentially influential period for scaled quail populations. Monitoring seasonal survival and daily cycles in spatial behavior allows us to observe scaled quail’s responses to winter conditions, such as changes in movement patterns, selection of thermal refuges, and vulnerability to mortality. We will trap quail in southern Brewster County, Texas during the winters of 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 using walk-in funnel traps and fit them with aluminum leg bands and Global Positioning System backpacks to obtain location data and monitor survival across the winter season. Location data will be analyzed using an integrated Step Selection Analysis to identify scaled quail’s selection and movement behaviors throughout the winter. We will use a Kaplan-Meier Survival Analysis to monitor survival throughout the study and generate an estimate of overwinter survival. Examining these dynamics will help identify habitat attributes utilized by scaled quail and the impact of winter on population persistence, supporting our knowledge of scaled quail’s winter ecology and better informing future management efforts for scaled quail in the Trans-Pecos.