Hang around quail managers for very long, and you’ll probably hear someone talk about improving that field corner where we always get up some birds, or something along those lines. But is that really the best use of our limited time and dollars? To really boost populations, you’d do better to blow the dust off that old physics textbook in your garage.
Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity involves the concepts of space and time. These concepts have important implications for quail managers as well. Noted quail researcher Dr. Fred Guthery discussed a “usable space philosophy” in a 1997 "Journal of Wildlife Management" article. By reviewing the scientific literature for methods that consistently increased bobwhite populations, Dr. Guthery found that the only way managers achieved this goal was to create more habitat (space) available more often (time). Quail populations fluctuate according to the habitat space-time available to them. Limit one or both of these variables and you limit the population potential of the quail. Conversely, when we provide quail with the most space, available over the most time, we have provided all we can. Quail populations reach their highest potential when every acre is usable every day of the year.
If physics isn’t your thing, maybe you’re handy with a hammer. The key to building quail populations is not to keep tinkering with the areas where they already occur (remodeling, if you will). Rather, you need to create more areas where they can live (build new houses). If quail already inhabit an area, that’s not the place to focus your efforts. Doing work there won’t produce more quail by “making it better.” If it’s suitable, quail will live there. If it’s not, they won’t. This is exactly why many programs aimed at boosting quail populations often fail. Food plots don’t help when quail already have plenty to eat but not enough places to nest. Warm-season grasses don’t help when brushy cover or the amount of bare ground is limiting. Everyone talks about quail as being an edge species, and to an extent they are. But creating more edge between habitat types is redundant if they already have enough. To be more successful managing quail on your farm, look for ways to increase the amount of space they can use for the most days of the year.