Bountiful wildflowers this spring are a sign of good things to come for wildlife.
What most people call wildflowers are referred to as “forbs” by wildlife biologists. Forbs produce important seeds for a wide range of wildlife, especially small mammals and birds. From the hunter’s standpoint, they are especially important food sources for quail and dove.
Biologists with the Arizona Game and Fish Department cautioned that people should not expect miracles - quail and dove populations are down significantly, which means a lower breeding population.
Mourning doves typically nest in the summer, so the jury will remain out on them for a while. However, the excellent desert seed production this spring should result in doves being in good breeding condition.
Small Game Supervisor Ron Engel-Wilson said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the quail and dove outlooks, based on the good winter and early spring precipitation, and the associated green up.
“There should be good Gambel’s quail reproduction this year. The slight glitch in the prediction is the low numbers of adults available to breed,” Engel-Wilson said.
Torrential rains at the wrong time can actually cause Gambel’s quail nests to fail or result in high hatchling mortality.
Randy Babb, Mesa regional information and education program manager, said he has noted pairing quail for some weeks now, which is a good sign. “If nothing disastrous happens, my gut feeling is we should jump up to average for Gambel’s quail in central Arizona. That’s an incredible leap from awful to average,” Babb said.
Babb added that if Arizona can experience normal precipitation this summer, then there would be decent numbers of all three quail species to hunt in the fall. Although Gambel’s quail reproduction is keyed to winter and spring precipitation, Mearns’ quail reproduction, and to a lesser extent scaled quail reproduction, are both keyed to summer rainfall.
Ron Olding, Tucson regional wildlife program manager, said most wildlife are generally in pretty good condition following a full winter of abundant food and water for a change. Olding is optimistic about the quail outlook in southern Arizona, but also expects the rebound to reach “average” proportions this upcoming season.
“These recent storms re-topped off the stock tanks and springs, and provided one more good watering for our lovely wildlife garden. Now we just have to go out and gather the data to prove or disprove our educated guesses,” Olding said.
On the drier western side of the state, there has been a good green up so far, but the final key comes in late spring or early summer. “We need one inch or above of rain in June or July to hatch insects for young quail to feed on. Then we get good juvenile survival,” explained Art Fuller, Kingman regional game program manager.
Engel-Wilson pointed out that this is an unusual year in one sense - wildflowers are generally blooming several weeks ahead of schedule. “I do not know what this means in the overall scheme of things. There also seems to be a second growth of small plants that may bloom later. If that happens, we will have a prolonged bloom providing lots of food for wildlife in the deserts.”
There may be one downside. “There appears to be a good snow pack, which will be good for turkeys, but it may not be good for turkey hunters this spring. Some of the areas may not be accessible during the earlier portion of the season,” Engel-Wilson said.