Thrifty Quail Habitat Management

Published on: Aug. 20, 2009

ground for quail. Instead of just burning a grass field, consider burning and then lightly disking a portion of the field to really set back the grass. Other double stack options include prescribed fire and an herbicide application, prescribed fire and managed grazing and a herbicide application and light disking.

image of tractor and field

First burn the field then strip-disk it to further set back the grass and encourage annual seed-producing plants.

Scout for Invaders.

Sooner or later, invasive plants such as sericea lespedeza, Bermuda grass or tall fescue will invade even your best quail habitat. Take a walk around your farm, preferably in the spring and summer, and look for invading plants. Remember the locations and come back at the right time of the year and spray with the appropriate herbicide. Ignoring invasive weeds when there are only a few plants will cost you even more in a couple years when you have a big problem.

Rent or Borrow Equipment.

Having good equipment is a must if you want to effectively manage your property for quail. My top five “must-have” pieces of equipment are a good tractor, disk, sprayer, chainsaw and drip torch. I’d like to buy more, but I’m “thrifty.” Instead of buying new equipment, you can rent equipment from your local soil and water district, Conservation office or even rental store. You can also buy good used equipment at a farm auction or estate sale.

Help Thy Neighbor.

I’m amazed by the amount of habitat work one person can accomplish. I’m even more amazed by what a team of landowners can accomplish. Call your neighbors and see if they are interested in quail habitat management. See if they want to work together. A small patch of quality habitat is good, but more is even better.

Stocking Quail vs. Habitat Management.

Captive-reared quail do have a place in the quail world, and that’s for training dogs, special youth hunts and if you plan to repeatedly hunt the same property during the season. Quail stocking to restore a population doesn’t work, and research has found stocking (regardless of the method) is very expensive. Research from the southeast United States on popular release systems and preseason stocking found it can cost as much as $74.53 and $42 respectively for each quail harvested! Spend your money on quail habitat management. If you plan to use captive-reared quail, make sure you have the correct permit.

Forget about Predator Control.

Quail are near the bottom of the food chain, and nearly everything likes to eat quail, including me. Many people think controlling predators will mean more quail for them to hunt. This isn’t necessarily true, nor is predator control effective. Several studies from the southeast United States have shown that predator control is generally ineffective, very costly (up to $30,000 per year for some quail plantations) and even harmful to quail. For example, two studies in Texas concluded that removal of coyotes and bobcats could increase predation on quail by more serious nest predators such as fox, skunks, raccoons and snakes. So how can you combat predators and help quail? Simple, improve habitat by creating good nesting, brooding and woody escape cover.

Try Managed Grazing.

If utilized properly and with habitat quality in mind, cows can be a wonderful management tool for bobwhite. Cows can create a mosaic of different habitats that we can not replicate with fire or disking. Grazing also adds another level of complexity to your wildlife plan, so use with caution. Make sure you consult with someone who understands grazing and quail habitat before starting.

Patch burn grazing on a conservation area in west-central Missouri. Patch burn grazing creates a mosaic of nesting and brooding cover for bobwhites and numerous grassland birds.

Understand the Different Conservation Programs.

Federal and state agencies and conservation groups offer cost-share for creating or maintaining quail habitat. The single best source of financial assistance will be the 2008 Farm Bill. Many programs have sign-up periods and special requirements and policies. Talk to your local biologists or visit your USDA Service Center to learn more.

Managing your land for quail can be fun and rewarding. In many cases management must be completed each year. As a result, costs can add up quickly. However, landowners can still be thrifty and maintain high-quality quail habitat.

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