Quail Management


Quail are mostly seedeaters, and food is rarely a limiting factor. Landowners seeking to improve quail habitat should focus on cover needs before increasing food provision. Quail require escape, nesting, and brood-rearing cover throughout the year.

Photo of male northern bobwhite
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.


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.

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 cover should make up 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.


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.


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.

Food and Water Needs

Food is rarely the most limiting factor for quail in Missouri. Therefore, you can expect little population response if you focus solely on providing food without first assessing the cover available. Don't attempt to increase food provision until cover needs have been met.


It is essential that food is available near escape cover. Quail should be able to walk through good cover to their feeding grounds and should have dense escape cover within 50 yards of food.


During most of the year, bobwhite quail are primarily seedeaters, although they do eat some insects. Their diet varies over the state. In grain-producing areas, quail eat corn, soybeans, milo, and wheat when available.

Fall plowing often interferes with access to grain residue for quail since fall plowing turns under crop remains, thus eliminating it as a food source. Consider establishing food plots on your property to ensure quail have continued access to grain.

A quail management plan should provide at least one of these three primary sources of food:

  • Crop residues, such as waste grain and legumes, preferably in unplowed stubble
  • Native weed and grass seeds and shrub and tree fruits
  • Special plantings of grain

A standing water source is not needed for quail as they obtain the water they need primarily from the foods they eat and through the digestive process.


Important food plants for quail:

  • Acorns
  • Beggar ticks
  • Blackberry
  • Black locust
  • Clovers
  • Crabgrass
  • Crop residues of corn, milo, sunflower, and soybeans
  • Crotons
  • Dandelion
  • Foxtails
  • Grapes
  • Korean lespedeza
  • Milk peas
  • Partridge pea
  • Pigweed
  • Pine seeds
  • Poison ivy
  • Ragweed
  • Sassafras
  • Sedges
  • Smartweed
  • Wild bean
  • Wood sorrel

Get timely, in-depth quail-management information for Missouri landowners and quail hunters.


Learn how changing landscapes, predators, and weather affect quail.


Use these tips to maintain the best habitat conditions for quail on CRP fields.


Follow these steps for disking and prescribed burning to ensure the best results for enhancing quail habitat on your land.