During our conversation they often blame predators for the decline. Raccoons, red-tailed hawks and house cats get the blame. I don't care much for house cats either.
I do care about raccoons and red-tailed hawks and all the other animals that occasionally eat quail. Let me stress occasionally. No predators single out quail. I don't see many hawks with bumper stickers that say "Eat More Quail" or "Quail, the Other White Meat."
Now back to the phone call... after talking with the person for a while, I quickly learn they are truly concerned about Missouri's quail population--for that matter, the nation's. They'd love to see quail numbers like we had in the 70s and 80s. It must have been good if people can still talk about it 30 years later. Unfortunately, things have changed. Check out some of the old pictures of Missouri quail hunting (the pictures are to the right).
A lot of folks want to control predators or stock birds. Stocking doesn't work. Read my old blog on quail stocking and what purpose it serves today. Three things to remember about quail stocking. One, pen-raised birds are good for dog training and kid training. Two, pen-raised birds do not address the issue of habitat quality and quantity. Three, pen-raised bird don't survive very long in the wild, especially in places with bad habitat. There's a lot of poor habitat out there.
I've had several folks ask me to write a blog on predator control. I hesitated for a while because I don't think predators are the problem for quail. What is a problem is bad habitat. Poor habitat makes the birds susceptible to weather, starvation and eventually predators. Make good habitat, and life is a little easier for quail.
Here's my advice on predator control for the three most vicious quail predators. Warning, there's a little sarcasm in the rest of this article.
This "animal" makes quick work of hard woody cover and vital nesting cover. Dozers often cause indirect mortality--a very slow and painful death because the birds are exposed to the elements. Eventually the birds die from starvation, predators or the elements. Last year I watched a dozer scrape out a quarter mile plum thicket that was home to two coveys. Where did those birds go without good woody cover? I guarantee they had a hard winter.
To control bulldozers add sugar to the fuel tank or try siphoning out the diesel. These are only temporary solutions and will likely land you in jail. You might want to plea temporary insanity. The judge might give you a break if they like quail and if they know the value of good woody cover for quail. As an alternative, consider enrolling the field edges into CRP. Research in Missouri has shown that farmers come out ahead by establishing CRP field border along the edges of their fields. CRP more than pays its way. There's also CRP programs for grasslands. Check with your local FSA office for more details on CP-29.
The second nasty predator is the brush hog or mower. This predator is very common in Missouri. The brush hog population usually peaks in late June, right around the peak of the first quail hatch. There's usually a second peak in late July or early August. Again, right at the peak of the second quail hatch. Unlike dozers, these predators will kill nesting quail and young. A baby quail doesn't stand a chance with the larger "bat wing" varieties that mow 15 to 20 feet at a time. Siphoning gas or adding sugar to the tank will work, but you'll see the judge again. The judge won't be as forgiving this time. As an alternative, I recommend putting the mower in the barn, grabbing a pitcher of cold lemonade (maybe something a little stronger), and sitting back on the deck and listening to the quail. Another option is to plant more wildflowers in your old fields and grasslands. That's what we have done at our farm (see picture below).
The third predator is a nasty beast that we usually don't see until it's too late. Plant succession is found everywhere. Good examples of plant succession occur in old fields, woodlands and unmanaged grasslands. Even hedgerows, woody draws and food plots are at the mercy of succession. Invasive plants like eastern red cedar, locust, sericea lespedeza, tall fescue and smooth brome, Bermuda grass and all those tropical grasses in the southeast United States that I can't pronounce or spell have made succession an even bigger enemy to Mr. Bobwhite. Check out this blog to see how red cedar is taking over Oklahoma. Even native warm-season grass is susceptible to plant succession. If left unmanaged, it's no better than other grasses for quail.
Edge feathering is a good way to set back succession. Use prescribed burning, strip-disking and managed grazing to manage succession in old fields, grasslands, glades and woodlands. Native warm-season grasses are easier to manage than sod-forming grasses like fescue, brome, Bermuda grass or those grasses I can't pronounce.
Fortunately, we don't have many of these predators on our farm or the farms I quail hunt. We occasionally see a mower at the farm, but only on the trails and fire lines. Succession is always around, but we keep it under control. Below are three pictures taken from the same point at our farm. The first picture was taken in December 2003 before we had done much habitat work. The second picture was taken in January 2006, one year after we had chainsawed all the cedar and locust and sprayed the tall fescue.
Since then we have burned this spot a few times. The last burn was in February 2008. Here's a picture from the same spot in July 2009. It doesn't look that impressive, but the forth picture is the field next to this one. This field was burned, and the results are pretty impressive.
I hope you enjoyed my somewhat sarcastic article on predator control. But seriously, if left unchecked bulldozers, random mowing and plant succession are major enemies of Mr. Bobwhite. Remember, having good habitat is the key to restoring bobwhite.