Beyond the Food Patch:
A Guide to Providing Bobwhite Quail Habitat
Hopefully, the information contained in the foregoing text and photos has given you a good insight to the requirements of bobwhite quail. Now you're ready to seriously consider habitat implementation.
Like a visit to the pantry before heading to the grocery, providing quail habitat should begin by taking stock of what's already on hand and what's missing. Evaluating your current situation will help determine the first critical question you need to answer: What is the practicality of attempting to manage for quail and to what extent will improvements be required? Be aware, areas under constant cultivation or intense livestock production will require extensive change in vegetative composition. Also, unless fulfilling a specific need, attempting to manage small acreage is usually impractical.
To begin the evaluation, you should have in hand the most recent aerial photo available for the property to be managed. This can be obtained from the local Farm Service Agency or Natural Resource Conservation Service. As you walk the property, note on the aerial photo the current land use (i.e., crops, grassland, woodland, idle land) of each field or tract. Further, making additional notes, be as specific as possible. Types of crops and their management, whether double-cropped or fall-plowed, are important. If grassland, note species of grass, and intensity of grazing and haying. Record the age of idle land, whether fallow, old field or brush land. The age of woodland must also be taken into account. Make a note of specific existing conditions that favor quail, such as brushy fencerows and drainages, or established field borders or hedgerows.
With this information, you should be able to see those areas on the photo that best lend themselves to providing year round cover and food requirements, either by their current conditions or potential improvement.
Consider 15 to 20 acres the minimum need for a fall and winter covey. Within this range determine if each of the fall/winter needs - cover for loafing, roosting and escape, and a dependable food supply - are sufficiently available. Suitable nesting and brood cover, while not necessarily part of the fall-winter range, are essential needs that must be available where they can be readily found following covey break-up in the spring.
Evaluating Suitability of Cover types
A mixture of native forbs and bunch grasses, particularly broomsedge, interspersed with emerging woody plants and vines. Moderate amount of litter from previous years for nest material. April 15 through September. Brood cover juxtaposed. (See Nesting Cover)
Newly growing native forbs or grasses, or certain cultivated crops. Solid canopy, stems well spaced and ground bare. Mid-June through October. (See Brooding Cover)
Summer requirements essentially same for adults and chicks as for brooding. Availability of an abundant and diverse selection of native foods (Table 2, Special Occasions: Habits, Habitat and How To), crop residue and supplemental food plantings throughout fall and winter. Zero to moderate amount of litter, stems well space. Full to partially open canopy. Escape cover juxtaposed. (See Feeding Cover)
Dense thicket of shrubs, brambles and/or vines, "open" beneath and occasional tall trees above. A critical element of fall/winter home range. Honeysuckle thickets are unequaled. (See Escape Cover)
Low-growing forbs and/or grasses, crop stubble. Open canopy, zero to moderate litter. (See Roosting Cover)
Loafing, dusting and general daytime use
Old field conditions, primarily native forbs and grasses interspersed wth vines, shrubs, and small trees. Timberland in the seedling and sapling stages, or open canopy. Moderate litter. Year around.
The individual cover types need not be contiguous. Having the various cover types in several locations within the total area, or home range, will provide greater access to each. The total area should consist of approximately equal acreage in each of the major cover types, or at least those required for a fall-winter range, with nesting and brood cover nearby.
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.