Quail: Cover Needs

Quail use a variety of cover types throughout the year. You will have the best odds attracting more quail by establishing close and reliable access to food as well as permanent cover for nesting, brood-rearing, and escape.

Try to provide the following cover types in habitat parcels of 40 acres or less.

Escape Cover

Landowners can also create escape cover with brush piles made from branches left over after firewood cutting, or brush or tree trimming, or by edge feathering.

Several loose cover piles located next to a food source are best. Consider an area to be suitable escape cover if you can’t walk through it.

Quail chick in brood habitat
Early successional habitats have scattered plants that create an umbrella-like canopy. This allows quail chicks to move easily and forage for insects.
MDC Staff

Desirable types of escape:

  • Brushy fencerows
  • Plum and dogwood thickets
  • Feathered edges
  • Downed tree structures
  • Loose brush piles
  • Forage sorghum
  • Broom-corn food plots

Between 5 and 20 percent of the home range should be comprised of shrubby cover for quail escape.

Situate escape cover in patches scattered at a distance between 50 and 100 yards apart. This will allow quail to dive readily into cover if needed.

Nesting

Nesting cover should make up of at least 30 percent of a covey’s home range.

Good nesting cover can be commonly found in unmowed, ungrazed, or lightly grazed areas. Bobwhites may also nest in field borders of native warm-season grasses and forbs, as well as patches of cool-season grasses such as redtop, timothy, and orchard grass.

  • Early nests are usually built in areas with residual standing vegetation from the previous year, so it’s important to have suitable cover available in early spring.
  • By mid-summer, new growth may be tall enough to provide nesting cover as well, provided it is not mowed or grazed short.

Quail prefer to establish nests in grass/regrowth between 8 and 12 inches in height. It is ideal to have nesting habitat embedded within patches of brood habitat.

Dense patches of grass are unnecessary; one grass clump per 100 feet is ample for nest production. Quail prefer to nest within 50 feet of an edge. Improving edge habitat (the boundary between habitat types) is an excellent way to boost numbers on your land.

To ensure that quail go on using nesting space, it is imperative that these areas do not become too thick or grown over.

Brood-Rearing

At least 40 percent of a covey’s home range should be in brooding cover.

The best brood habitat is weedy. Think annuals such as ragweed, pigweed, annual lespedeza, and foxtail. A variety of annuals will provide a dependable seed supply quail will feed on during fall and winter.

Disturbed areas typically provide good brood cover for one to three years, before grasses become too thick for quail. These spaces need minimal litter on the soil surface and plenty of bare ground cover with an overhead canopy of grasses and forbs. Getting forbs and legumes into the mix will help bring in more insects, which chicks will depend on during early development.

Roosting

Quail roost in vegetation that is not too dense but still provides concealment from above. Roosting cover is usually 1–3 feet tall with at least 25 percent bare ground for easy movement. The roost is usually in open, clumpy vegetation away from thick or tangled escape cover.

Fields of ragweed, croton, broom sedge, and other native grasses are good roosting areas.

Quail usually do not roost in shrubby cover or woody draws except during periods of ice or snowy weather. During winter in rolling terrain, quail may select roost sites with a southerly aspect to take advantage of the sun’s warmth.

A combination of disking, herbicides, and prescribed fire will improve each of these habitat types.

See Quail Habitat Management for further reading on these practices.

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