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"Covey Activity"

a synopsis of an article by D. Clay Sisson and H. Lee Stribling
Auburn University Dept. of Zoology/Wildlife Science

The spring 1999 issue of the Albany Area Quail Management Project newsletter contains an interesting article on quail covey activity. It is the third in a series (the first two are in the November-December 1994 and 1995 issues of Quail Unlimited Magazine) and though rather rich in detail, it carries some very interesting conclusions that could be useful to hunters. I’ve taken the liberty of editing the article and reducing it to a selection of excerpts which I feel every hunter should keep in the back of his mind. Much of the article that is not presented here concerns the methodology of the study, and if you would like to see the piece in its entirety, click here.

The first excerpt mentions the correlation between covey activity and time of day and also contains a note about the geographic area covered by quail:

This…pattern was observed over and over again where a covey would come off the roost and be very active early in the morning. Some moderate activity would occur throughout the morning with the covey often times moving off into heavier cover such as a thick bottom or planted pine stand to spend the middle of the day loafing and inactive. Activity would usually pick up again around 3:00 with the covey going back to feed later in the afternoon just before roosting time. Long distance movements were uncommon with most coveys moving no more than 200 to 300 yards all day and having ranges of only five to ten acres for the whole season (italics mine). This was most likely influenced by the high quality and uniformity of the habitat along with the supplemental feeding program.

The second excerpt summarizes the relationship between covey activity and weather:

The last part of the data looked at was the effects of weather on quail activity…..Basically, what we found was that coveys were more active in cold weather, high relative humidity, and light winds. Decreased activity was associated with hot weather, low humidity, high winds and rain…. The strongest correlation to a weather event was very little activity any times an east wind was blowing. We are unsure why this is, but apparently the old saying "wind out of the East, find birds the least" has some merit. Another interesting phenomenon was that activity levels tended to increase a day before a change in the weather, suggesting that quail can sense an approaching weather event (italics mine). In general, the best days for quail activity were cold and overcast with a light wind. Bright, sunny, low humidity "blue bird" days are pleasant to be out in, but are not especially good for quail activity.

The final excerpt discusses some general observations on how the study may be helpful to hunters:

One of the main reasons for having done this project was to see if we could get any information to help make quail hunting more efficient, and we felt as if there are some lessons to be learned from the data. The main ones may be that quail get up and are on the move early and are often very vocal coming off the roost, but only for a brief time period. Both of these can be used to the hunter’s advantage. Many old-time bird hunters (and a few modern ones) were in the woods before day to listen for and locate as many coveys as possible. They then knew where to start and were hunting early, which our data clearly shows is the most highly active time of day. Our data also shows that most coveys don’t move far between roosting and feeding areas, which means that most of the time, they will be close to where they were heard calling. If you have a hunting partner or two, a good strategy may be to spread out and try to hear as many coveys as possible on the roost, and then hunt these coveys early in the morning. This would be especially useful in new or unfamiliar territory. Another obvious trend was for coveys of birds to move to heavier cover and be much less active during midday. This may be a good time for and your dog to rest, or if you do hunt, to look in heavier cover near where birds are usually found feeding. Three o’clock is usually the time when activity starts to pick back up, with coveys usually moving back into feeding areas late in the day. In the final analysis, any hunter knows that the best time to go quail hunting is any time you can, and that even a bad day of hunting is better than a good day of most other things.

Amen to that last line. The complete article can be seen here, and if you would like more information about the research conducted by the Albany Area Quail Management Project, click here.

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