Quail Habitat: Putting the Numbers in Perspective
Missouri and Iowa suggests that quail prefer to nest in these grassy areas up to 50 to 75 feet from some edge, such as a road, crop strip or food plot, disked strip, etc. For this reason, it is important to manage herbaceous nesting areas to provide ample nesting opportunity throughout the field, especially on large fields such as many enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Unmanaged CRP fields, even if planted to warm-season grasses, tend to have moderate to poor nesting suitability because bobwhites rarely venture far into solid stands of grass to nest. Breaking these large fields up with disk strips, herbicide strips, patch burns, or food plots will improve access to the field interiors for nesting. But be mindful that narrow strips may provide easy meals for nest predators. A hungry raccoon, skunk, or possum is much more likely to find a nest full of eggs in a strip 15 feet wide than in one 100 feet wide. Optimum strip width in plantings heavily dominated by grasses is around 150 feet.
On the other hand, fields with low grass clump densities in a matrix of weedy cover are mostly “edge” as far as quail are concerned. In these instances, birds have easy access to the entire field as all nests are within good brood habitat. Proximity to brood habitat is very important, since the parent and chicks will leave the nest soon after hatching and the chicks will need insect-rich feeding areas that offer easy mobility. At the 2006 Gamebird VI Symposium, researchers from South Texas reported that bobwhite nest productivity peaked at a grass density of only 400 clumps per acre. Put another way, this amounts to just one clump per 100 square feet or a single grass clump in a square 10 feet per side! The rest is bare ground, brushy cover, and lots of wildflowers and legumes. Some of you may be thinking, “That’s Texas. It doesn’t apply to my area.” But remember, quail habitat structure is what’s important. Similar evidence was indicated in Missouri when radio transmitters were placed on quail to see how they used available habitat on two conservation areas actively managed for quail. Weedy fields with scattered grass clumps were found to be quite attractive to nesting bobwhites. I suspect that in the Midwest, most fields considered to have good nesting cover have way too