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Bobwhite Quail Hatch at Its Peak

Jun 15, 2011

quail chick in good feeding habitatThat is what the MDC Natural Events Calendar states for June 15. So, give or take a few days, there should be some quail eggs cracking around Missouri. With 10 to 14 eggs per nest, the potential is there for a good increase in the number of quail. What does a brand-new quail need when it leaves the protection of a warm eggshell? It needs to stay warm, which can be difficult because its feathers are not yet developed enough to provide much insulation. What insulation they do provide is lost if they become rain-soaked. Thus warm, sunny, dry weather is a good forecast for young quail chicks.

With its body temperature under control, the young quail chick turns its attention to its stomach and what to put in it. Protein- and fat-rich insects are the preferred meal, and mid-June is a great time to find insects--that is, assuming that there is a sufficient variety of low-growing plants that are used by insects available. The more different kinds of native plants that grow in the area, the greater the number and variety of insects that will be found there. Adult or larval insects will be using the plants as their own food source by eating the leaves, flowers or fruits. Adult insects will be laying eggs on particular plants so that the next generation of larvae will have an immediate food source after hatching. The insects and the quail both choose a suitable place to lay their eggs so that their young will have the best chance to survive.

Just as the insects have to contend with quail and other birds as predators, so must the quail contend with their own large set of predators. Here again, habitat is the key to surviving the threat. The odds of survival are in the quail’s favor if they have thick cover near their feeding areas that will protect them from predators. This may be a multi-stemmed thicket of blackberry, sumac or wild plum. It might be the top of a fallen tree that has become overgrown by wild grapevines. It is the kind of structure that prevents them from being seen by hawks overhead and from being easily caught by predatory mammals on the ground. The bare ground under the cover gives the quail a place to wallow in the dust, a practice that helps them control parasites.

While you go about your early summer activities, consider the bobwhite quail’s annual effort this month to replenish its population. Visit our website or contact our staff for techniques to manage your land to meet the needs of quail.

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