Oklahoma's quail season opened Saturday and runs through Feb. 15, providing hunters with an opportunity to hunt one of the most popular game birds in Oklahoma.

Doug Schoeling, upland game bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said weather plays an important role in quail production and habitat quality and quantity.

"Last year Oklahoma had record heat and severe drought, and the population declined," Schoeling said. "The lack of rain also affected the amount of nesting cover available for the 2012 nesting season.There were areas throughout Oklahoma that did see some spotty showers that could show better population numbers in isolated areas."

Western Oklahoma remains in the forefront for quail habitat in Oklahoma and will typically have the best population of birds in the state. Precipitation in the western part of the state was good through April but declined during the following months. The early rainfall increased the amount of forbs that attract insects and provided good brooding cover. This additional cover may have aided in first nesting attempt success, but the conditions began to degrade later in the nesting season. Northwest Oklahoma did see a 33 percent increase over the 2011 survey.

The Wildlife Department has conducted annual roadside surveys in August and October since 1990 to index quail populations across Oklahoma. The statewide index is 85 percent below the 22-year average and the 2012 statewide index decreased 25 percent from the previous year. However, the number of quail observed in Northwest, North central, and Southeast regions slightly increased over 2011 results.

The Wildlife Department has been involved in a long-term bobwhite quail research project with Oklahoma State University's Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. This research is in response to the decline in both quail populations and hunter numbers. By conducting research on two of the best remaining public lands quail habitat areas in the nation - Packsaddle and Beaver River wildlife management areas in northwest Oklahoma - biologists are working to gain insights on various aspects of quail management, including the movement and distribution of birds during the late summer and early fall when coveys are known to shuffle and regroup into new coveys, how to effectively manage habitat to boost chick survival, and how the weather influences reproductive success and bobwhite survival in Oklahoma. To address these and other topics, studies are revolving around four primary approaches: habitat and population dynamics, insect and food availability, quail use of habitat by predators and aflatoxin.