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Important Quail Plants You Should Know

Aug 29, 2010

Sorry, allergy sufferers, you are not going to appreciate this post!

Common Ragweed: bane for allergy sufferers but no. 1 wild quail food in Missouri.

There are numerous definitions of a weed, including:

  • A plant out of place and not intentionally sown
  • A plant growing where it is not wanted
  • A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered (R.W. Emerson)

Whatever your definition, ragweed is a weed to most people, but to quail and quail managers it is free food and cover.

Common ragweed seedlings emerge from May through July. Flowering parts are formed from July to September, and seeds mature from August until first frost. The pollen that is produced and distributed in abundant quantities from August until frost is the cause of most hay fever in late summer.

Seeds have several longitudinal ridges ending in short spires (similar to a crown). You can buy expensive ragweed seed to plant for quail, believe it or not, OR you can almost bet that nature has already planted it for you. All you have to do is manage for it. Best management practices for encouraging ragweed are fall disking or summer, fall and winter burning. Eradicating fescue and other sod-forming grasses in the fall will also produce abundant ragweed populations. Ragweed relishes disturbance, just like quail; they were meant for each other.

With this summer’s abundant moisture in many areas of the state, ragweed has proliferated not only in areas managed for quail but also in overgrazed pastures. Many landowners are now mowing their pastures, but it is only a cosmetic solution. The ragweed has produced seed and the mowing is doing little good. We get many reports from farmers who do leave the ragweed in their pastures that they see lots of quail in their pasture in the fall.

Studies have shown that it is the no. 1 natural quail food in Missouri. Not only does it produce food, but during the growing season it attracts food for quail chicks, in the form of insects. It has the proper growth and structure that makes it attractive cover for quail; no self-respecting Cooper’s hawk is going to dive into a healthy stand of ragweed for a quail meal. Before the weather gets cold, quail will roost in ragweed at night.

Even if you consider ragweed a weed, even if you suffer from ragweed allergies, just remember that some four-letter words like "WEED" are good for quail! And numerous songbirds will vote it no. 1, too!


BWQ FarmerRagweed drops it seeds from now into the winter months, typically it is over in December. The seeds seem to remain edible. I will see where quail and sonbirds have burrowed intot he litter under ragweed looking for the seed. In areas where snowfall is inevitable, it will cover up the seed. If snow is over 4 inches deep then quail cannot dig through it and I don't think most songbirds can either. However, when the snow melts that is when the birds will burrow into the litter after the seed.I have found numerous quail roosts during the hunting season in solid ragweed, by late winter they gravitate toward harder brushy cover. Our food studies in Missouri and the SE show high utilization of ragweed. In the sandy soils of Georgia and Florida where ragweed is not native, they actually buy seed and plant it.Don't forget either the positive benefits for broods and summer feeding by all sorts of songbirds.Bill

I've read and heard this before but have three followup questions. When does ragweed drop its seeds? Do the seeds stay edible through the winter (unlike soybeans that quickly deteriate when wet)? How many common or giant ragweed seeds would a quail need to eat to maintain itself on a winter day? My concern is that even with a light snow fall the ground is covered and my ragweed fields look pretty barren. I don't see any sign of birds out feeding in the ragweed stalks. My green ragweed fields in the summer are nearly inpenetrable, over your head, but by January are bare sticks.

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