small parcels, where potential habitat has been turned to more park-like settings. Abundant quail and rabbits are no longer the happy coincidence of how we manage the land. Today it takes purposeful management, proactive investments of time, money, sweat and concern to create and maintain islands of suitable habitat that support quail populations.
Back to That Quail-Gobbling Tom
A single Florida study from the 1930s noted an instance of turkeys destroying quail eggs. No study since has documented turkeys damaging quail nests or feeding on chicks. Turkey researchers have not found a single quail chick or egg fragment while examining thousands of turkey stomachs. In addition, scientists monitoring quail chicks fitted with radio transmitters and watching quail nests via remote cameras have yet to catch a turkey in the act. Given that hundreds of studies of wild turkey food habits and predation on quail have been conducted over the past 80 years, the lack of evidence is remarkable. The logical conclusion is that turkeys have no direct role in the decline of quail.
So, why did turkeys seemingly replace quail in many areas? In 1980, longtime MDC Quail Biologist Jack Stanford warned that quail populations were headed downward due to habitat loss. Among the changes that have hurt quail, one that relates to turkeys is the increase in wooded land. Missouri has gained nearly 2.5 million acres of woodland since the early 1970s. These new woodlands are generally not large stands of healthy, mixed forest that provide valuable wood products or homes to forest interior songbirds. Much of this increase is comprised by small stands of less desirable trees such as cedar, Siberian elm or locusts that have encroached into once open areas. Turkeys colonized parts of the state that were formally bobwhite strongholds along with this expansion of wooded cover, particularly in the traditional prairie landscapes of western and northern Missouri.
Turkeys and quail share some habitat needs, such as grass for nesting, weedy areas for feeding on insects and row crops and acorns for winter food. However, the trees that turkeys require for roosting can spell trouble for quail. Quail need low-growing tangles of brush and briars for protection from predators and the elements. Tall trees shade-out this beneficial woody cover over time and provide perches for predatory hawks and owls.
Factors Beyond Our Control
In addition to shifting land use practices, factors beyond our direct control impact quail and other upland wildlife.