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Bernard Brown of Sand Springs, Oklahoma harvested a quail Jan. 19 at the Cimarron Hills Wildlife Management Area in northwest Oklahoma that may have looked like any other when he shot at it on the flush. But when his German shorthaired pointer "Blade" retrieved the bird, it became clear that something was different.

"I noticed immediately it was banded," Brown said. "I was stoked. Made my day!"

Brown's bird was part of a group of 165 quail that were trapped, sampled and banded by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologists at the end of 2011 for research. Specifically, Brown's bird was a juvenile male that had been trapped and banded in October and released after blood and other biological samples were collected from the bird.

Hunters were notified by the Wildlife Department of the possibility of harvesting banded quail on several western Oklahoma WMAs this season and were asked to report banded birds if they harvested one. By doing so, biologists can keep tabs on the mortality of the sampled birds. In addition to the birds that were banded and released, close to 75 others were trapped and sent to research facilities for extensive studies.

The bobwhites were trapped on 10 WMAs in western Oklahoma during August and October as part of the Wildlife Department's involvement in a research project called Operation Idiopathic Decline, or OID. Studying the decline of the bobwhite quail across its range is a primary goal of OID, which is made up of a partnership between several conservation and research groups including the Wildlife Department, the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Tech universities.

Samples from all trapped quail were sent to universities in Texas, where researchers are investigating the incidence of disease, parasitism, pesticides, toxins and contaminants in sampled quail.

"We're waiting for researchers to give us information on things like West Nile Virus, avian influenza, aflatoxins - all of the various components they are looking at," said Alan Peoples, chief of Wildlife for the Wildlife Department.

Over 40 percent of the birds trapped in Oklahoma were adults. However, Peoples said in a normal year of hunting, most of the birds seen by hunters are young of the year birds, or those that were born in the spring and summer. About 80 percent of the harvested quail in an average year will be young of the year birds as well, with the remaining 20 percent comprised of adult birds.

Since young birds make up the large majority of the quail seen and harvested by hunters, reproductive success is critical. According to Peoples, extended drought conditions and record heat during the summer was detrimental for both quail nesting success and recruitment. In addition to the impact of heat on nesting sites, a lack of green vegetation led to reduced numbers of insects that young quail depend on for food in the first months of their life.

In addition to working with trapped birds, the Wildlife Department is involved in a genetic research study through the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville. The Department recently provided wing samples from hunter-harvested quail that will aid in research efforts.

The Wildlife Department also is contracting with Oklahoma State University to conduct quail research over the next six years on Packsaddle and Beaver River wildlife management areas in the northwest part of the state. Research facilities will be constructed on the WMAs, and researchers will be collecting extensive information that could lead to improvements in quail populations and habitat management.

"We're going to focus primarily on reproduction and brood survival," Peoples said.

The Wildlife Department is now providing periodic updates on upland game bird research and conservation through a free e-mail report called Upland Update. The updates are available free by signing up on the Wildlife Department's website, wildlifedepartment.com. Currently, more than 800 subscribers are receiving the updates

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