Aim Information on the movements of bird populations in extensive landscapes is needed to assess environmental effects and conservation strategies over appropriate temporal and spatial scales. The common quail (Coturnix coturnix) is a game bird that breeds mainly in dense cereal crops. These crops cover huge areas of the Iberian Peninsula. The aim of this work is to relate cereal mowing, which causes rapid and massive habitat loss for the common quail, to population movements of the species during its breeding season.
Location Spain, southern Europe.
Methods We used ring recoveries to analyse, using circular statistics, the orientation of movements by male common quails in the northern half of Spain. Forward stepwise multiple regressions were applied to correlate (1) the Julian day of cereal harvesting at 770 locations with the respective latitude, longitude and elevation, and (2) the number of hunted birds with hunting pressure, breeding densities and mean mowing date by province. Finally, data concerning the number of quails hunted at the end of the breeding season were compared by province and year using two-way ANOVA.
Results Our results show that during the breeding season in the northern half of Spain, male quails orient their movements towards higher areas, and mainly to the northern Castilian Plateau. These are the areas of Spain where cereals are harvested latest. Moreover, records show that the number of quails hunted is significantly higher in these areas than in other areas of the country, independently of hunting pressure and breeding densities, and it is extremely high in the northern Castilian Plateau.
Main conclusions Cereal mowing combined with some Spanish geographical characteristics acts as a funnel, forcing quail populations to concentrate in certain areas of Spain at the end of the breeding season. This implies that the number of quails hunted in these areas may be high, and that they therefore constitute priority conservation areas.