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Dirty Birds

Jul 02, 2012

Last night, I walked the dog along the dusty trail to one small field. I found where a turkey had dusted itself; there was a small depression scratched into the dust with turkey tracks around it. Farther down the trail, I found where a rabbit had done the same in a shady yet dusty spot. And yet farther on down the trail, I found where quail had been dusting.

This reminded me once again of how important exposed soil is to wildlife, particularly birds:

  • Many birds need access to grit or sand particles, which they swallow to aid digestion. Many people with chickens provide grit to their flock for that same purpose.
  • Birds also will use bare soil to dust in for the purpose of deterring parasites such as chiggers, mites and lice.
  • Quail need around 25 percent bare soil exposed in their habitats in order for chicks to move around, feed and stay out of the morning dew or rain-soaked vegetation. This bare ground also encourages a diversity of annual plants, which attracts the insects that quail chicks rely on and later produces seed for fall and winter.

That dusty trail reminded me of the year we had our basement walls repaired and during the process had small mounds of soil piled around the yard waiting for the concrete to cure before we backfilled in around the foundation. One early morning, my kids called me at the office with, "Your quail woke us up!" Evidently, two pairs of quail had come into the yard and were dusting on a mound of soil piled pretty darn close to the boys' bedroom window, and the birds started calling. Later that summer, a brood of quail showed up in the yard and could frequently be seen using an area of bare ground along a tile trench.

While my boys may not have appreciated a wake-up call from nature that morning, the birds appreciated the basement repairs and became known around our house as those "dirty little birds".


Bobwhite quail chick
Bobwhite Quail Chick


I was just out again today, July 5th, and I'm seeing quite a bit of little blue and side oats thats already turning brown. Side oats has already put on seed and a lot of it is easily stripped off by hand, way to early for this to be happening. We do have some rain in the forcast for late Sunday into Monday and I pray that we get some of it. My blackberry thickets were on course for an absolute bumper crop this year but now they're starting to die and the berries are drying up at a rapid pace. Did hear a quail whistleing this morning though, so that was a nice thing to hear.

Jerry if you look at some of the long-term weather data, it does appear that the hey day had an unprecedented number of dry cycles from the 50s to the early 70s. However, you look at the last 20 years, then the opposite occurs. We should see an uptick in quail numbers this year where the habitat is present. However, as seen in Texas, it can get too dry for quail. Hopefully, we will not see that here.

Well they shouldn't have any problem finding a dusting spot around here. Getting scary dry around here but as far as Quail go, this is about ideal brood rearing conditions. I wonder if the drought years of 53-54 led to the "heyday" of Quail and Quail hunting back in the 50's and up through the early to mid 70's?

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