Calling All Quail!

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

The aerial photo of my 60-acre “farm” lying in front of me on the kitchen table held the answer. I just hadn’t noticed it before.

I was studying the photo, not to determine the favorite haunts of the turkey on the farm, but to figure out how to attract more quail.

I’d colored the fields converted last year to warm season grass mixtures blue, and the brushy draws with hard-core winter cover light pink. I made the brood-rearing mixture of bare ground, lespedeza and annuals bright yellow. The small plots of grain, milo and wheat, which also contained a good dose of weed seeds, were green.

Nothing was missing, except for a steady crop of quail. I’d seen an occasional covey, but not the three to four coveys a year I wanted. The photo told me why.

Although my land was now quail-friendly, thanks in large part to technical advice of the local NRCS staff, the surrounding land was not. In the aerial photo, my land seemed to stand out like a raisin in a bowl of oatmeal. I wondered how the quail could ever find the 60 acres that I’d prepared so well for them.

A quick call to Tom Dailey, the Conservation Department biologist leading quail research efforts, provided an answer.

While a covey can find all it needs on as little as 10 acres, sustaining a population over time requires a much larger piece of land. And it must have the right mix of habitats. With Missouri’s mix of unpredictable winters, hot summers and toad-strangler rains, the best way to consistently have a reasonable number of quail is to manage at least 800 acres,” Tom said.

Last time I checked, my banker was not about to lend me enough money to buy 740 more acres. But, who needs a loan when you have neighbors?

I remembered how landowners had cooperated in the late 1950s to make Missouri’s turkey restoration successful.

At that time, biologists believed wild turkey required at least 10,000 acres of contiguous habitat containing a mix of timber and grassland to survive.

People who wanted their land considered for a turkey release had to work with their neighbors to sign up 10,000 acres of private land. Only after landowners had agreed to work together were sites evaluated for restoration.

I wondered whether landowners ever cooperated in the same way on behalf of quail.

Nick Prough, private lands conservationist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and Tom Lampe, West

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