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  • Writer's pictureBrent Anderson

What Might be Done to Help Minnesota Bobwhite Quail in July? Note to Self – They Need Dirt!

With all the rains we’ve had in southeast Minnesota, and across the state, you can imagine that the foliage is thick and insects (a critical protein source) are abundant. It’s true! The food supply is at its peak and quail that survived this hard winter are eating better than they have at any other time in 2019.

In addition to a hearty supply of insects, berries, clover and seeds, bobwhite quail need small, open patches of exposed soil for a couple of reasons:

A. They need access to small rocks or sand to help digest their food. Like all birds (lacking teeth), food they eat goes directly into their “crops” – an organ in their neck that helps soften the food by mixing with something similar to saliva. From there, the softened food travels into the gizzard, which is a very strong muscle that can help grind the food into smaller, digestible pieces. The grinding really only works well when the gizzard has very small rocks or sand. While not ALL exposed soil will have many small rocks, you can easily add a bag of sand after preparing such an area. The finer the grains of sand, the better.

B. They need exposed dirt for dusting themselves (really cool to watch any bird do this)! Dusting is a sort of bath in fine, dry dirt that allows them to clean their feathers and eliminate any tiny parasites under the feathers, causing them annoyance. A clean bird is a happy and healthy bird.

C. Exposed dirt can also be a great place to find other food sources – worms, snails, tiny tree frogs, etc. And, eating a diverse supply of food is incredibly important to their immune systems.

How can you build a patch of exposed dirt for them?

  1. Think about location. Ideally, it would be a mostly sunny spot so the dirt can dry quickly and they can use it for dusting almost every day. But, ideally, it would be along a woodland edge or near to escape cover so they can out-maneuver the aerial predators. Ideally, also, the soil would be sandy and/or very dusty when it’s dry – fine soil, not heavy and rich soil. Soil that is high in clay has little value and will take days to dry out. Even though it will be quite dusty when it finally dries. Most important is to pick a spot that will dry quickly after a rain.

  2. 10 feet long by 2 feet wide is plenty. But, even 4 feet long by 2 feet wide will be found by all birds (not just quail) and will be very helpful. You’re going to find that working this area with a tiller will make the project go quickly. You’ll kill off some existing foliage, but you’ll also be helping seeds (which were in the seed bed) to germinate. Just like with your garden, you will want to take a garden hoe to it about once a week. Please don’t use herbicide – we want to keep the birds healthy.

  3. If you don’t have a tiller, or access to one, you can do the job with a shovel, a hoe and a rake.

  4. Consider adding a bag of sand if you are unable to see any existing sand or very small stones.

Turkeys, quail, pheasants and even songbirds will use this! And, you’ll see plenty of signs of activity – especially if no such exposed dirt is readily available to them right now.

Check out this video of bobwhite quail dusting themselves:

Have you heard about our upcoming fundraising banquet, sponsored by the Metro Chapter of Minnesota Quail Forever? It’s Thursday, August 15 at Tinucci’s in Newport (southeast of St. Paul). If you’d like to learn more or register to attend, CLICK HERE.

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