Boosting quail was focus of national conference hosted by MDC Aug. 1-5 at Springfield

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Springfield, Mo. – Being flexible and innovative in managing habitat is the way to best boost bobwhite quail and the five other quail species found in America, experts say. Applying research data and field observations may mean modifying long-used practices for quail. Biologists working throughout the United States took those messages home after a national quail conference Aug. 1-5 that was hosted in Springfield by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and conservation partners.

Attendees at the joint conference of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee and the National Quail Symposium heard reports on research and updates on the latest technologies useful to studying and monitoring quail populations. For instance, researchers have trapped and placed transmitters on quail to track exactly what habitats they prefer for best nesting and brood rearing success. Sometimes the results challenge old assumptions. An extensive five-year quail study by MDC and partners found that quail broods often hatch in nests well beyond June 15, which was long assumed to be the date for peak hatch time in Missouri. MDC has adjusted practices on public land and recommendations for private lands to better protect nesting and brood-rearing quail.

Quail are a popular gamebird. Bobwhite quail are also a much-appreciated songbird for their mating “bob-white” whistles on early summer mornings. Good habitat practices for quail benefit all grassland birds and pollinators, and the people who enjoy them. Yet quail and other grassland birds have declined in recent decades due to a loss of quality habitat and other environmental factors.

“We have to move forward in our management,” said Dave Hoover, MDC regional resource management supervisor. “Our quail-loving public appreciates the resource, and they don’t want to let it go. Let’s be adaptive. Let’s learn from things that we’re doing and things we need to change.”

Presenters made several points about ways to boost quail on public and private lands.

  • Researchers continue to gain knowledge about quail friendly plants and how factors such as vegetation disturbance via prescribed fire and grazing can boost quail, said Aaron Jeffries, MDC deputy director. It can take years of good management to reach peak covey numbers. “I don’t think we will return to quail numbers of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s,” Jeffries said. “But we can still have 10-covey days.”
  • MDC research found bobwhite quail have higher nesting and brood rearing success in native grasslands with pockets of shrubby or woody cover. Though a proximity of a grassland field to large trees that host predators can greatly reduce quail survival in a habitat. Grasslands that have regular fire and grazing regimes provide open ground and a variety of overhead cover that quail need.
  • Reducing fragmentation of habitats and hard field edges, such as eliminating tree rows, can boost quail by reducing predation.
  • Despite quail declines in eastern states, there are also signs of success in boosting numbers on public and private land where good habitat management practices have been applied, said James A. Martin, a researcher and professor at the University of Georgia.
  • Quail can move further across home territories than previously thought, based on radio tracking, said Kyle Hedges, MDC district supervisor. In fall and winter, quail show a preference for selecting cover closer to shrubs and trees. Shrub habitat boosts quail survival, mature trees reduce quail survival.
  • Quail populations thrive best when private landowners cooperate on habitat programs and management on both a local and regional scale. How habitat is arranged matters as well as the amount of good habitat, Martin said. “What worked in the past may not work in the future,” he said. “We have to be more flexible.”
  • Landowners working together in quail cooperatives supported by MDC have proven that bobwhite covey numbers can be increased.

MDC can connect landowners with expertise and cost-share programs for habitat improvement offered in partnership by both public and private conservation entities. Conference speakers were hopeful for strong federal funding for wildlife action plans that apply to grassland wildlife habitat improvements across regions.

“We can make a difference for quail in the places where we have the right type of habitat and the right amount of habitat,” Jeffries said.

To learn more about ways to improve quail habitat on farms and acreages, visit