Beyond the Food Patch:
A Guide to Providing Bobwhite Quail Habitat
Whether it's the pleasure of their company-watching them scurry across the lawn, listening to the male's distinctive call-or their unsurpassed qualities as a game bird, quail have long been treasured by landowners, "bird" hunters and those who simply enjoy the sound of "bob-white".
To anyone who's ever been charmed by their presence or challenged by their flight, the appeal of bobwhite quail does not diminish. Unfortunately, their numbers have. In Virginia, an estimated 70 percent decline in bobwhite population since the mid-1960s may seem conservative to some, as quail are now gone from many of their former locations. Most responsible has been the decades-long era of modern land-use that has severely reduced the availability of suitable habitat.
Throughout their history, the fortunes of bobwhites have been determined far more by chance than design. With few exceptions, the applied management of quail habitat has been overlooked or disregarded. As current land practices continue to work against the bobwhite, landowners wishing to have quail on their property must now consciously apply the practices necessary to meet the bobwhite's needs.
By the wealth of knowledge compiled over the past 70 years, the bobwhite's requirements have been well defined and the means that will provide suitable habitat successfully demonstrated. More art than science, providing quail habitat in this hi-tech world is "down to earth"-disturbing the soil, modifying vegetation. Most of the techniques and tools employed are as old as those used in nineteenth century agriculture. To be successful, one also must understand the quail's unique behavior and be able to recognize and implement the subtle characteristics of habitat that quail demand.
Today, as throughout the past, there are factors that regulate quail populations that may seem to be outside the realm of habitat. Predation, weather, and hunting are some of the more obvious factors. Yet, the quail's best defense against all obstacles is the fortification that a satisfactory supply of cover and food provides. Always leading a perilous existence, the bobwhite will prosper where satisfactory habitat permits. But no threat is as decisive as the absence of a suitable place to live.
On the pages that follow, you who have expressed the frequently heard desire to "bring back the quail" or increase their numbers will find the information that will help you proceed. First, for those unfamiliar with quail talk, other than "bob-white," there is an explanation of frequently used quail management terms and concepts. Second, Needs for All Occasions gives a broad-brush view of the bird's basic requirements, and also addresses the "nothing has changed" fallacy and the costly effect of the "keep it clean" syndrome. The Techniques section explains the value and details the implementation of various practices that are frequently recommended. Special Occasions: Habits, Habitat and How To gives the why, what, and how of satisfying the requirements for each major activity. Last but not least, "Managing Bobwhites on Production Lands," focuses on ways to boost bobwhite usage of crop fields, pastures, and timberlands.
The Reference section gives the procedure for evaluating your current habitat situation, and includes a quick reference on which to base your judgment of suitable habitat. Using this, you can determine what is satisfactory and what needs work. It is to that work, and those doing it, that this publication is dedicated.
First, I acknowledge the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) for its support of the development and implementation of the Commonwealth's 5-year Quail Plan, of which this publication is but a small part. I also acknowledge my good fortune to have worked 31 years for the Department. There, I frequently had the privileged opportunity to pursue, professionally, my avid interest in bobwhites. Secondly, I am grateful to numerous dedicated quail researchers, past and present, whose published and personal accounts have been the sources of much of the information found here. I trust I have restated their findings accurately. I thank, specifically, the members of the VDGIF Quail Plan Committee-"The Quail Team"-Steve Capel, Mike Fies, Cale Godfrey, Patty Moore and Marc Puckett for guidance, suggestions, and editorial and technical reviews of the manuscript, and for entrusting in me the authorship of this publication. And for heightening and holding my interest in bobwhites through the good and lean years, and aiding my field observations, I am grateful to a long line of eager hunting companions-Duchess, Sugar, Rapp, Juice and Spot.
All photos, unless otherwise credited, are by Dwight Dyke, Blackhawk Productions©. The quail sketches have been produced by Spike Knuth over the years for various Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries quail publications. We are indebted to these men for sharing their skills with the readers.