Quail Habitat: Putting the Numbers in Perspective
much grass and not nearly enough weeds and bare ground. If you have some fields of warm-season grass but the birds aren’t responding like you expected, then perhaps most of the field is “interior” and not available as good nesting cover.
Many of you have likely planted native grasses in the past with only moderate success. You may feel that you have plenty of brushy cover (see the next section if you think you really do!), but quail numbers aren’t where you hoped they would be. Perhaps the problem lies with your brood habitat. In my experiences, good brood habitat is the most often overlooked component of good bobwhite cover. To put it simply, quail need weed patches, and lots of them. Think about the “good old days”. How weedy were the pastures and cropfield edges you used to hunt? Before we had Round-up Ready® weed technology, cropfield edges were full of ragweed, pigweed, foxtail and wild sunflower. Prior to 15-foot bush hogs and air conditioned tractor cabs, many farmers didn’t mess with the ragweed and croton that came up in the pasture in late summer. Sure, we had more brushy hedgerows back then, but we also had a lot more weedy cover everywhere: the old barnlot, road ditch and fallow field. Patches full of annual weeds with a bare ground understory are a major ingredient in the recipe for quail production.
The optimal situation is the one described above under Nesting Cover: scattered grasses for nest construction in a matrix of weedy cover disturbed every few years to keep it weedy and open at ground level. Remember, 40 to 60 percent of the home range should be composed of weedy brood habitat. When nesting and brooding cover are combined in the same field, this mixed habitat type could comprise 70 to 80 percent of the home range. Management techniques to produce good brood and nesting habitat include disking (especially fall disking), prescribed burning, herbicide application to perennial grass stands or monocultures, and field fallowing. These management techniques should be applied every two to three years to keep brood habitat in the desired condition. An often overlooked or even denounced method for producing good brood habitat is grazing. Certainly areas can be overgrazed to the detriment of bobwhites, but used carefully, the cow can be an excellent habitat management tool, and one that doesn’t require diesel