Calling All Quail!

By Eric Kurzejeski | August 2, 2005
From Missouri Conservationist: Aug 2005

The aerial photo of my 60-acre “farm” lying in front of me on the kitchen table held the answer. I just hadn’t noticed it before.

I was studying the photo, not to determine the favorite haunts of the turkey on the farm, but to figure out how to attract more quail.

I’d colored the fields converted last year to warm season grass mixtures blue, and the brushy draws with hard-core winter cover light pink. I made the brood-rearing mixture of bare ground, lespedeza and annuals bright yellow. The small plots of grain, milo and wheat, which also contained a good dose of weed seeds, were green.

Nothing was missing, except for a steady crop of quail. I’d seen an occasional covey, but not the three to four coveys a year I wanted. The photo told me why.

Although my land was now quail-friendly, thanks in large part to technical advice of the local NRCS staff, the surrounding land was not. In the aerial photo, my land seemed to stand out like a raisin in a bowl of oatmeal. I wondered how the quail could ever find the 60 acres that I’d prepared so well for them.

A quick call to Tom Dailey, the Conservation Department biologist leading quail research efforts, provided an answer.

While a covey can find all it needs on as little as 10 acres, sustaining a population over time requires a much larger piece of land. And it must have the right mix of habitats. With Missouri’s mix of unpredictable winters, hot summers and toad-strangler rains, the best way to consistently have a reasonable number of quail is to manage at least 800 acres,” Tom said.

Last time I checked, my banker was not about to lend me enough money to buy 740 more acres. But, who needs a loan when you have neighbors?

I remembered how landowners had cooperated in the late 1950s to make Missouri’s turkey restoration successful.

At that time, biologists believed wild turkey required at least 10,000 acres of contiguous habitat containing a mix of timber and grassland to survive.

People who wanted their land considered for a turkey release had to work with their neighbors to sign up 10,000 acres of private land. Only after landowners had agreed to work together were sites evaluated for restoration.

I wondered whether landowners ever cooperated in the same way on behalf of quail.

Nick Prough, private lands conservationist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and Tom Lampe, West Central Missouri Quail Unlimited Chapter chairman both told me about a cooperative quail habitat effort among some Cass County landowners.

About five years ago, these two men noticed that they had four active quail habitat projects going on in one section of Cass County. The projects were successful on their own. For example, Stephen Riffle, a landowner in the county, said he went from two coveys to eight in one year after edge feathering and other habitat work.

Nick and Tom felt that if they could link those projects by building a network of Cass County landowners and partners interested in quail management, it would be like putting more raisins in the oatmeal.

For their plan to work, they had to have more landowners who wanted to manage for quail and the help of local USDA leaders and the farm programs they managed. They also needed to provide the equipment and technical advice for landowners who needed help.

They started small, with Tom knocking on neighbors’ doors to see whether they wanted more quail. If they did, Tom and Nick studied their land and suggested management practices that would benefit both the landowner and quail.

It wasn’t long before these habitat enhancement projects paid off with more coveys. People engaged in quail habitat work placed signs on their land calling attention to their involvement. Tom Taylor, a cooperator, said, “These signs are a great way to show off my project.”

The good news about quail management spread quickly through the farming community. Soon, it wasn’t hard to find landowners who wanted to start quail habitat projects. The isolated, lone-raisin approach had shifted to landscape level management.

“Seeing landowners excited about restoring quail makes my job worthwhile,” Nick said.

Landowner interest, excitement and support were vital but so were partner support and finding a way for busy landowners to get the work done.

Nick and Tom recruited the local NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) and FSA (Farm Service Agency) to support quail habitat restoration efforts. Both these federal agencies helped by promoting quail-friendly practices to local landowners.

What started as a two-man team has now exploded into a cooperative effort between landowners, FSA, NRCS, MDC and QU.

“Partnerships are why we have been able to do as much as we have,” said Tom Lampe. “Money from Quail Unlimited and landowners, plus state and federal programs is a powerful combination.”

Because many landowners don’t have the time, equipment or expertise to manage habitats, Nick and Tom also located several reliable local contractors willing to do necessary edge feathering and spraying to enhance habitat conditions.

The results speak for themselves. They went from four quail habitat projects in Cass County in 2000 to 110 in 2004. Over 17.5 miles of hedgerow have been renovated, 98 CRP contracts have established native warm-season grass, and 3,574 acres are under active management for quail.

Research shows that every acre of habitat work affects 10 surrounding acres by increasing overall habitat suitability. Using this rule of thumb, there have been 35,740 acres affected in Cass County alone since 2000.

Quail on the Web

Search these sites to learn more restoring quail on your land.

Missouri Department of Conservation

The Noble Foundation

Southeast Quail Study Group sponsored by Quail Unlimited, The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and The Southeastern section of The Wildlife Society

Nick and Tom’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The West Central Missouri Quail Unlimited Chapter won the National Quail Habitat Award in 2002 and 2003. The group hopes to receive the prestigious award again this fall for 2004 habitat work completed.

When you get the cooperation ball rolling, it usually ends up snowballing. Cass County is one of two counties in the country that have received a federal grant aimed at building quail habitat through utilization of government programs. This grant provides funds to hire someone who works entirely on quail habitat projects. “This grant has put everything on a larger scale where it will be easier to achieve success,” said Nick.

All this began because someone took the time to ask their neighbors to pitch in and make a difference for quail.

If you have trouble calling quail to your land, ask yourself if the “raisin concept” applies to your farm. If it does, talk to your neighbors about quail habitat management. After you’ve drummed up some interest and support, contact your private land conservationist or your local NRCS office to put a plan in place.

Working together just makes sense.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - TomCwynar
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Editor - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler