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Check Your Brood Habitat Now

Jul 21, 2011

Imagine if you were half the size of your thumb and had to catch insects the first 14 days of your life to survive. Sound impossible? For the millions of newly hatched Missouri quail chicks this is a reality. Insects are the most important food item for quail chicks. Insects make up 80 to 95 percent of a chick’s diet during its first three to four weeks of life. The tiny chicks must be able to maneuver through vegetation and catch insects to survive. A Missouri CRP study found that only 33 percent of quail chicks survived until fall. Less than half survive the first two weeks of their lives. This is why it is important to provide proper brood habitat to get young birds through this critical two-week period.

So what is brood habitat?

Good brood habitat consists of any plant community that attracts an abundance of insects. This plant community must provide an overhead canopy and bare ground for ease of movement. Bare ground is extremely important. If quail chicks can’t maneuver through vegetation to catch insects, their only source of food, they die. How much bare ground is needed? Fifty percent bare ground is ideal. As much as 75 percent bare ground is fine as long as there is an overhead canopy.

Walk Your Farm

Now is the best time to walk your farm and find out if you have good brood habitat. Kick a softball through what you consider brood habitat. The softball should roll several feet, bouncing off the vegetation before stopping. If it is hard to see the softball as it rolls through the brood habitat, you have adequate canopy coverage. The canopy coverage protects the chicks from predators and provides a shaded area while foraging for insects. Examples of good brood plants that attract insects include a mix of ragweed, desmodium, foxtail, croton, partridge pea, clover, alfalfa, annual lespedeza, sunflower and no-till crops. Basically any plant community that attracts insects and has bare ground and an overhead canopy will provide good brood habitat. Remember, the key to insect abundance is plant diversity. More plant diversity equals more insects. The more plant diversity, insects and bare ground you have, the more quail-friendly your farm will be.

How To Create Brood Habitat

Brood habitat can be created by burning, disking, chemical setback and grazing. Even a weedy food plot works well. No matter which management practice you choose, your goal is the same. You want to create bare ground and promote weeds and insects. The timing of these management practices will give you different vegetation responses. Experiment with different practices and timings. Don’t manipulate more than one-third to one-half of any given field. If you plan to manage for brood habitat on CRP ground, you must do so during specified dates. Contact your local FSA office before implementing any management practices on CRP.


Quail chick in brood habitat
Quail Chick in Brood Habitat
Early successional habitats have scattered plants that create an umbrella-like canopy. This allows quail chicks to move easily and forage for insects.


Just a quick note to let you know the quail are alive and well at Prairie Star. I've seen lots of adults and two different broods. The first was a large brood, but I never could count all of the chicks. I was amused to have the mother hen fly toward me in an effort to scare me away. My wife and I watched the second brood from the barn. There were fourteen, over half grown, chicks. I have also had some success at calling in the roosters. On three occassions this spring the quail have flown right at me. They are a little harder to shoot when they do that. I quess I've just wait until fall and hope they fly in the other direction.

Dear Anonymous, the reality is that we will not likely see quail back on the landscape like they were in the 1950-1980s. However, we ARE seeing them come back where the habitat is being managed by individuals or where cost-share programs have impacted large areas such as the bootheel.For example in the Knox County Focus Area there are more than double the quail where management is focused as compared to outside the focus. Outside the focus area quail continue to decline, while inside the population remains steady in spite of the weather extremes seen in NE Missouri the last 3 years. I just visited a friend who manages 120 acres in southern Osage County and saw his second quail brood this summer. He manages specifically for quail.I have enough cover on my own place that I rarely see broods, but I always have 2-3 coveys on my 47 acres, where 6 years ago, the neighbors said they had not seen quail for many years.Those are successes in my book, and we can find hundreds more like them.Bill

Dear Quail Man, the cool wet springs are great for encouraging cool-season grasses and fescue is especially frustrating when you are trying to eradicate it.  You can mow, but you should use a busg hog that throws the trash to one side so that you are not burying everything in the field under a layer of dead vegetation. Keep your mower at 6-8 inches high.If you did not plant wildflowers with your grass, you can wait til after a killing frost and spray the fescue one more time with glyphosate. If you have planted wildflowers do not use glyphosate, but something similar to Poast herbicide that is labeled for grasses only. My understanding is that some MFA outlets sell a small quantity of an equivalent to Poast.P.S. Good news is we replaced your PLC in Franklin County, she has considerable habitat management experience and should be able to help you.

Sir,I did some habitat work on about 5 acres of a field. I sprayed it last fall,then burned it,and then on green up this spring, I sprayed a second time to try to kill all the fescue and other cool season grasses in middle of May. I planted 3 acres of this to warm season grasses with a drill by a experienced planter from mdc conservation helpers page around May 25. Within a day of planting,we had 6 days of cool weather and heavy rain. Now,I see very little little bluestem and sideoats gramma ,I have alot of ragweed,pigweed,pokeweed,lezpedesa, smartweed,ect but alot of what I call water grass and fescue coming back. What did I do wrong,Do I brushhog the weeds down so the warm-season grass grows now or do I wait to get out of breeding season,see other article, I do not hear any quail calling,but I hope there eventually are. I also did 3 edge feathering projects around this field. What can I do about this cool season grasses reappearing, this field was bare and all vegetation was dead when i planted the warm season grasses. Did we just have to much rain this last part of may and june? The reason I really don't want to brushhog is I think the nesting season was delayed with all the rain. Our Franklin cty office has had our private land specialist move to another cty. Help!

If you really believe there are millions of truly wild quail chicks in the state you are living in a dream world. I question the reasons given for the decline, but if they are not a threatened species in MO, we need a new definition for the word. Is the Department seriously committed to dealing with this issue or not? If "Yes", what is the definition of success or failure??

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