One of the quickest way to start a gentlemanly debate among upland bird hunters (and it will remain gentlemanly, urbane and witty because, well, they’re upland bird hunters…) is to bring up the relative merits of predator control versus habitat. It’s also an argument that very much applies to prairie pothole waterfowl production, but since duck hunting debates often result in the angry flinging of decoys, I’ll save that one for later.
It would be reasonable to assume that having fewer coyotes in an area will result in at least marginally more quail, right? Sounds logical. Coyotes are, after all, predators who would never pass up the opportunity to raid a nest.
But according to this article from the folks at quailresearch.org (hat tip to the guys at Upland Journal for the find) the exact opposite may be true: a healthy population of coyotes might actually be beneficial to quail production. Why? Because coyotes prey on smaller mammals like raccoons, skunks and opossums far more than they do on quail. And guess which mammalian predators are the worst when it comes to nest predation on ground-nesting birds? Yep, raccoons, skunks and opossums.
From the story:
_It is tough being a quail. From egg to adult you are constantly tops on the dinner menu. But what do we really know about the predators of quail? Based on covert photography at nest sites, we tend to assume that raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, skunks and a host of other small predators spend much of their time on search and destroy missions against hapless quail. Yet predator removal programs consistently fail to create an abundance of quail. Something is amiss in our perception of the effect of predation on quail populations?
At RPQRR, we have an abundance of coyotes, a modest population of raccoons, but skunks are uncommon, and none of us has ever spotted an opossum, nor its tracks. Dr. Rollins hypothesizes that the coyotes suppress smaller mesocarnivores, either directly (i.e., preying on them) or indirectly (i.e., by restricting them to certain areas [e.g., riparian areas])._
It’s a great read for anyone concerned with the gradual range-wide decline of upland birds like the bobwhite, and it will certainly be interesting to see the group’s research turns out to support the hypothesis.
But here’s the rub: if it does turn out that healthy coyote populations mean healthier quail populations, what does that mean for hunting and trapping coyotes? Would you stop shooting coyotes where you quail hunt? What about deer? Would more coyotes have a detrimental effect on fawn survival? Does it inevitably turn into a question of what’s more important, quail or deer? Can you manage for both?