Understanding the Habitat Needs of Bobwhite Quail
Quail need all the same things pheasants need, and a little more. There aren’t many, but these habitat requirements are particular and are deserving of some attention.
Quail need to be able to get into areas, get out of areas and do so quickly. They also have a strong need to feel safe. If you think of pheasants as open prairie birds, think of quail as birds of the edges. They like to be on open ground, but they very strongly prefer to stay near the edges of dense fence rows and woodlands. These edges need some attention to make sure they are not too thick. In fact, they need to be just right. Edge feathering is a conservation technique that includes taking larger trees and cutting them at about 4-5 feet off the ground and leaving them attached to the tall stump. This open up the sky for easier escape, but also creates dense cover near the ground for nesting (pheasants and deer love this too). Take down the boxelder, green ash and maybe some basswood. If a few open areas are created, plant a few raspberry, blackberry and high-bush cranberry. The varying heights of trees, shrubs and low cover allow the easy in and easy out that quail strongly prefer.
Mixed Height Food Sources
Quail can’t easily get into and out of the thick stuff. They like to walk in and out, But, like to be able to fly out. It’s simple, but it’s a bit different than what pheasants require. Consider a food plot with some sorghum, but not solid sorghum. Allow some ragweed to be in the same plot. Plant some shorter food that will bring in the bugs – like buckwheat – in one corner. Then, in another corner mix in some areas with clover of varying heights (caution, some clover varieties can grow very tall).
If you don’t have a few areas that are shrubby, but covered with vines, you should consider doing so. Getting wild grape or bittersweet to cover a small stand of prickly ash is fantastic. Also, you can use the height of your fencelines to grow some wild rose and then get the vines from grape and bittersweet to cover the old fence. It looks beautiful, provides cover and plenty of food. If you’re going to buy some bittersweet, make sure you get American Bittersweet and NOT Oriental Bittersweet (which is an invasive as nasty and horrible as buckthorn). Unfortunately, many autumn floral arrangements use Oriental Bittersweet because it is cheaper for the florist. Make sure to buy your American Bittersweet from a reliable and trusted seed/plant source. American bittersweet is not overly aggressive and not considered an invasive.
Ideally, you would want 100-200 square feet of bramble like areas for every few acres of habitat property.
The concept of the “Covey Headquarters” is one of the most important elements in quail habitat design and development. A covey headquarters needs to include everything – all very close. The covey headquarters is really a mix of open ground, access to dirt or sand, mixed height cover, mixed height food, dense cover (like brambles) adjacent to open cover and something nearby to draw lots of bugs. Most covey headquarters are best designed to be near to taller woods of old growth forest on one side and farm field on the other side. The covey headquarters should be near to food plots or where they will be plenty of crop residues. Quail Forever has several publications dedicated to specific and unique quail habitat.