A scientific view on the quail

Scientific Director of the Lérida University



Anti-hunting euphemisms want to create an alternative ‘truth’ to reality in order to dominate public opinion. Not all documents nor all media, organizations and institutions are hypnotized by the hoaxes. The critical review allows us to see if the data presented are biased and if for this reason the conclusions obtained with them are equally biased. With the objectivity of science we can free ourselves from persuasive neuro-advertising campaigns. Since 1996 in collaboration with the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation (RFEC) We started a citizen science program that involves hunters in the collection of biological samples (wings of the hunted quail, whose feathers are used to classify their age in months) and in the completion of hunting questionnaires. We apply this program to study the ecology of wild quail and improve the management of this species, because it is essential for its conservation and sustainable use. In this sense, the sustainable management of the quail represents a particularly complicated challenge, as this long- and short-haul migrant bird is characterized by its complex traveling and reproductive patterns. The management of this small migratory galliform It must not only consider its ecological requirements, but also the social, cultural, economic and even political implications marked by the fact that it is a hunting species. The quail periodically crosses different socio-political borders, so it is exposed to very different threats depending on where it is at any given moment.

The information obtained from the wings is used to study the structure of the population, reproduction and migration; surveys and censuses to estimate abundance, reproduction, the impact of harvesting and hunting; the Anillaging to investigate movement and longevity. With all this we can establish a diagnosis of how the population is, determine its state of conservation with objectivity and precision.

Jose Manzano
Jose Manzano

The informe Coturnix 2020 is a scientific work that citizen science has used to collect data on quail throughout the country. More of 3,000 hunters have collaborated providing surveys of the hunting days and biological samples of the captured quails. More than 10,000 wild quail wings have been analyzed in the Wildlife Laboratory of the University of Lleida. The useful area for quail at the end of the summer has been estimated according to the Spanish biogeographic regions. More than 400 quails have been ringed and activities for the census and monitoring of the harvest have been programmed in different parts of Spain.

In 2020 the abundance of quail in late summer during its migration to Africa, it has been one of the highest in the last twenty-four years. The density has shown differences according to the biogeographic zones, this has oscillated between 0.43 and 1.01 quails per useful hectare. Quail abundance fluctuates widely between years and biogeographic regions. These changes generate uncertainty, frustrations and joys in your hunt because they give you great passion and tension. In diagnosing the state of a population of wild animals, in addition to abundance, we need to know its structure; that is, its composition in age groups and sexes. The biology of the quail is surprising for its high capacity for reproduction and movement. Its longevity is small because it is subjected to high mortality rates. During migration, for example when crossing the coastline, it encounters landscapes full of buildings, electrical towers, cranes, cables and fences with which it collides. The current environment subjects the quail to many different causes of death due to buildings, wind turbines and light, noise and atmospheric pollution. Despite this and many other illnesses that this bird faces, our quail population is capable of overcoming the artificial and natural factors that negatively affect its life thanks to its high productivity and early reproduction.

The quail generates at least three cohorts (groups of specimens born in the same period) of age each year, therefore their capacity to renew the population is multiplied by three. This means that the concept of youth and adult must be established for months and not for years. By means of the ratios between the age groups (age ratios), the reproductive success and the turnover rate of the population are evaluated. During the end of the summer of 2020, the age ratio 3 (RE3) in all biogeographic regions exceeds the value 3, showing that the population is expansive, that more than 80% of the quail caught by hunters were young born this year.

The quail hunting days they are carried out mainly alone and in a small group. The most common gangs are the hunter couple. The quail is hunted by a hunter accompanied by a dog, frequently two hunters with their respective dogs and sometimes accompanied by a third dog that is the generational renewal of one of the previous ones. Hunting forms change with biogeographic regions; in the south of the peninsula, gangs of two hunters are more common, although in all Spain hunting alone predominates. On average, the average yield of catches, that is, the quail that are killed per gang and day, is quite similar in all biogeographic regions: it ranges between 4 and 6 catches per day and group (2 and 3 quail per hunter and day ). Within the limitations (self-limitations) in hunting quail there is a great ethical journey. In Spain we have poorly trained hunters and hunters with a high level of understanding of nature and the art of hunting. More and more hunters only shoot the quail that the dog has sampled, as long as it is at the optimal shooting distance, under adequate safety conditions and meets the age and cunning requirements.

The quail is characterized by its complex traveling and reproductive patterns
The quail is characterized by its complex traveling and reproductive patterns – J. Manzano

The organization of hunting in the hunter societies exhibits a wide range of regulation and control systems. The number of hunting days, hours, sectors, parking lots, the quota of daily catches and those in possession, the number of hunters per gang, access to the sectors, the number of dogs, the technical characteristics of the weapons and the number of shots are parameters normally ordered in the rules of the company and specifically for each preserve. All these codes are designed and projected from the technical hunting plans. The hunting technicians monitor the sustainability of game populations and they prepare these technical documents that are legal in nature. Our official hunting regulation systems are advanced, they are continually renewed and improved in the different autonomous communities. As science progresses we apply new and better criteria for the sustainable use of nature. Legislation reforms allow the transfer and incorporation of technical innovations to optimize the sustainability of the use of natural resources.

Knowing how many animals we have, the useful surface that is available for the quail, the illnesses that affect it, the ecological requirements of the population, how to make the use of hunting contribute positively to its conservation … these are the basic tools that hunting technicians (geographers , veterinarians, forestry engineers, agronomists, environmentalists and biologists) apply in the elaboration of technical hunting plans. Our country is the most advanced in the European Union in sustainable regulation of hunting and it must continue to make progress in this regard. On how we apply these documents rests our responsibility towards the quail, because they explain how we treat it. It is important to know how to distinguish between what is useful and what is valuable; what is useful to conserve the population and what is valuable to take advantage of it desirably, from understanding its beauty, how it works and the goods it brings us to respect for the killed animal.

We have to talk about the quail among all hunters, naturalists and institutions. It is urgent to consolidate the monitoring and management of this species because it is a legal imperative. The Coturnix project is funded by Mutuasport; of course, also by all the autonomous hunting federations. Our challenge is to involve all hunters and citizens in nature conservation. In addition, we must give it a European and African projection, this requires us to get more funding and weave a wide international network of collaborations that is transversal to institutions and NGOs.

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