Bobwhite Quail

**** As of Feb. 1, 2013, funds are available to support landowners efforts to restore bobwhite quail in select counties. ***

Good quail habitat contains distinct components and characteristics that, if lacking, almost always means no birds. The ability to recognize these components is the best approach to evaluating current habitat conditions and for making future improvements.

Quail management is essentially the management of natural plant succession, that series of vegetative stages that occur over time if there is no intervention by man or nature. The greatest abundance of quail have always been found on lands in the early stages of succession, those recently tilled, burned, or cut over, and allowed to recover naturally. The concept of relying on and managing natural vegetation for quail is not new, only somewhat forgotten.

Quail habitat is mostly made up of herbaceous (nonwoody) plants. This habitat includes a mixture of grasses and forbs (broad leaved herbaceous plants). Some woody vegetation is also often favorably interspersed. Old fields, wide, weedy field borders and hedgerows, or recently cut over timberland are prime examples of the settings bobwhites seek. These settings often have in common the mixture of individual species and plant communities that bobwhites require to meet the majority of their daily and yearly needs. A diversity of plants and cover types better insures the availability of shelter and food in close proximity that will be required for each of the bobwhite's activities. Man-made plantings won't accomplish all the vegetative diversity that quail require. However, special plantings (i.e. food or cover plantings) may help to satisfy certain needs. Read Cooperative Effort Pays Dividends for Quail on the Zoar State Forest.

The ground beneath the vegetative cover must be open with plant stems widely enough spaced for quail to pass through easily and the ground itself free of matted vegetation or the heavy accumulation of dead plant material. In addition to allowing quail to move easily, bare or nearly bare ground, under overhead cover, makes food items (greens, weed seeds, and insects) easy to find. Where walking becomes a chore, or searching for food becomes futile, quail will disappear.

Periodic plowing, discing, or burning (every three years as a rule of thumb) will set back vegetative succession and will help keep ground conditions suitable for quail. Subsequent treatment will depend more on vegetative response than any particular time frame. Action is called for whenever most bare ground has disappeared or when emerging woody plants threaten to take over. Only about one acre in every three should be treated with a plow, disc, or fire each year. Following any of these treatments, step back and let natural plant succession take its course.

If managing an old field, scattered clumps of blackberry, honeysuckle, shrubs, and pioneer species of trees including persimmon, dogwood, sassafras, or cherry should be encouraged and protected if the field is burned or disced. Clumps of vines, shrubs, or saplings are often sanctuaries for quail using old fields. Many old fields, otherwise too heavily infested with fescue to be attractive to quail, will continue to hold a covey or two because of the natural vegetation control here and there on the ground that a dense, patchy overgrowth can provide. Many of the plants that provide this service to quail are also food producers.

An essential element of bobwhite habitat is the presence of dense, woody cover for escape and protection during severe weather. The most frequently used cover for escape is along a wood's edge, treeline, or fence line where tree tops are widely spaced, allowing sunlight to enter, thus encouraging a thicket of shrubs and vines, often honeysuckle or greenbriar. Development of escape cover can be accomplished by shrub and tree plantings but be prepared to wait awhile before it will be acceptable to quail for that purpose.

Visit DGIF's The Bobwhite Quail in Virginia