Quail Habitat: Putting the Numbers in Perspective
In my work as a private land conservationist, I frequently work with landowners interested in managing their property for quail. Every farm is different, and often even the plants are different (especially across the quail’s range in North America), but areas with good quail numbers have one thing in common: structure. As I tell the landowners, it’s great if you know a handful of plants beneficial to quail, but if you’re not a botanist, don’t sweat it. Just learn to recognize and manage for structure. If you’ve got the right structure, chances are high that the right plants will be present.
But what is good habitat structure for quail? There are several basic habitat needs of quail, whether we’re managing (or hunting) them in Missouri, Florida or western Oklahoma. Quail need grass clumps for nesting, diverse weedy areas for brood rearing, woody cover for thermal protection, loafing and predator escape, and abundant patches of bare ground mixed in with it all. Those of you currently managing quail habitat probably know this already. But how much of each habitat type do we need and what do they look like on the farm or landscape? A great starting place is the Missouri Bobwhite Quail Habitat Appraisal Guide, published by University of Missouri Extension. If you don’t have this publication, contact your local PLC or find it online at https://mymdc.mo.gov/+CSCO+0h756767633A2F2F4A726F5A6E7679++/owa/-CSCO-3h--redir.aspx?C=a5d0d504d1544897aae667f66164d5f7&URL=http%3a%2f%2fextension.missouri.edu%2fpublications%2fDisplayPub.aspx%3fP%3dMP902 to download a free copy or find instructions for purchasing one. In perusing this guide, you will find the recommended percentage ranges of each of these habitat components:
- 30 to 40 percent nesting cover (herbaceous cover consisting of bunch grasses and forbs with last year’s growth available May 1 through Sept. 15; present in patches of 5 to 20 acres);
- 40 to 60 percent brood habitat (herbaceous plants with ample bare ground, consisting of new growth of forb/weeds, annual plants, and minimum till/no-till crops);
- 5 to 20 percent woody cover (woody shrubs, edge feathering, downed tree structures and low-growing stemmy trees).
These numbers are a helpful starting point, but it can be difficult to visualize how much these numbers represent on the ground, especially if we have many interspersed small patches. The following should help give you some rules of thumb and mental pictures that you can apply in your management endeavors.
Bobwhites typically nest in residual grass clumps from the previous year. Nesting cover should be at least 12 inches high. Research in