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Do You Need To Feed Quail ?

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many landowners that were devoted to having quail on their property. Questions about feeding quail seem to always arise at some point during my visit. For this reason I thought I would take a few minutes to share some thoughts with you on the subject and why for many of us, supplemental feeding is a necessity. Why do we even need to feed quail?As a youngster, my father and I hunted quail and never had to plant a food plot or put out any feed. The farms we hunted had residual crops scattered along the field edges and food never seemed to be factor. But I can also remember, during one of those hunts, when he took the time to show me the track of a game animal that was just starting to become re-established in the region it was a deer track.Today you could leave half the crop in the field and still have nothing left for quail because the deer would have eaten it all. Also, deer browse on many of the native seed producing plants. This activity further reduces the abundance of natural winter food sources that quail need. In a situation like this, supplemental feeding is critical to sustain a winter quail population.

Sod-forming grasses are another factor to consider. Years ago, as cattle became more common in the southeast, landowners tried to improve the grazing quality of their pastures by introducing sod-grasses such as Bermuda grass, Bahai grass, and Fescue. When these types of grasses take over a fallow weed field, all of the plant groups needed to provide quail with food and cover are eliminated. In this case, the only remaining quail food- producing habitat on the farm would be in hedge-rows or wood lots around the pastures. Most often this is not sufficient area to carry a quail population through the winter. This creates the need to supply extra feed.

Not only are large deer populations and the huge influx of sod grasses working against us, but also the size of the tracts we are managing. Today, many of us are trying to produce huntable populations of game birds on smaller pieces of land. In this case year-round supplemental feeding of quail is a must. This is really no different than fertilizing a three-acre fishing pond in order to produce and maintain five acres worth of fish. Since you can’t make the pond bigger, you manage it more intensely so it can produce more fish. Providing supplemental feed on your quail area can provide more quail.

How does feeding impact a quail population?The large southern quail plantations have been providing supplemental feed to their quail for decades. They felt this practice would allow them to carry a bigger population of birds throughout the winter.

Tall Timbers Research Station, and Auburn University’s, Albany Quail Project, have in recent years, conducted studies to examine the pros and cons of feeding quail. Their findings have shown that supplemental feeding can increase the quality and quantity of quail that survive the winter. This results in a higher and healthier breeding population during the summer season than would otherwise be expected.For instance, The Albany Quail Project conducted a study on a plantation that had been feeding their quail for several years. The landowner agreed to discontinue supplemental feeding on one portion of the plantation, so researchers could compare the results between a fed and non-fed area. After two years, the population on the non-fed area declined 60% at which point the landowner stopped the project and resumed feeding.

Researchers from Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida also conducted a similar study. They found that feeding not only resulted in more birds making it into the breeding season but that the fed birds began nesting activity about one month ahead of the unfed population.

The researchers are quick to point out that the affects of feeding are more noticeable in drought years than they are during years that have adequate rainfall. Of course this is probably due to the effect that the amount of rainfall has on the overall availability of food.

Does feeding increase quail disease and predation ?Some people argued that feeding was a bad practice because it would lead to the spread of disease as well as increased quail predation. As far as disease is concerned, this is a no-brainer. As we already mentioned, the fed birds are in better physical condition than the unfed birds and a healthier bird is far less likely to contract an illness.

As far as predation, in many cases supplemental feeding can reduce it. One of the most interesting things to come out of recent research efforts is the effect that feeding has on the activity and home range of quail. The more abundant the food supply, the smaller the home range of the bird. The smaller the home range, the less the bird is exposed to predation. The lower the predation, the higher the overwinter survival rate.

In summary, we are trying to manage quail on smaller tracts in a fragmented landscape with a migratory Cooper’s hawk population that is unprecedented. A weak trapping market has allowed the four-legged predator population to sore. Trash dumpsters have become nurseries for an endless supply of feral cats and dogs that find their way to “quailville”. One would expect that anything we can do to help quail survive should be done. Supplemental feeding is one of those things.

I cannot think of any successful quail areas that I ever worked with in the past or that I am presently involved with now that do not have some sort of supplemental feeding program. It is vital to remember that providing feed for quail is only going to be meaningful when put in the context of good habitat management and in most cases, predator control. This is true for both wild bird management and successful pre-season release projects.Now that you understand why you may need to consider a feeding program, you may want to read next month’s column which will explain various methods of feeding.

In the days of my youth feeding quail was unheard of, but now it is as much apart of my management as control burning and fall disking.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Do You Need To Feed Quail ?"

#1 Comment By greg harbin On October 14, 2007 @ 8:55 am

How are you feedning the quail?Are you broadcasting wheat in areas or using covey release systems or both?

#2 Comment By Jim Evans On October 31, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

Greg,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.
To answer your question, on smaller tracts of land(100 to 500 acres), I generally provide my feed all season by using the Covey Base Camps. This system provides feed to quail without feeding a lot of other things like field mice, etc. so a little feed goes a long way.
On large plantations with several thousand acres, the feed is often spread using a tractor and cyclone spreader. Feed is spread in cover along feed lines throughout the habitat every 7 to 10 days.
Tracts of land that fall between these two extremes often use a mix of both feed lines and Base Camps. This is done by using the Base Camps for the initial release period. Once the birds become established on the property (4-6 weeks), they may begin to spread
feed lines as well.
What it boils down to is using what is the most economical for your situation. I could be more specific if I had more information.
If you would like, you could call me at our office ( 877-242-2482) or e-mail me at jimevans@wildblue.net
Sincerely,
Jim Evans

#3 Comment By Al Denard On November 15, 2007 @ 12:47 pm

Hi Jim,
I wish to devote a full 80 acres to quail. The tract is perfectly rectangular, one quarter mile by one half mile, and has brush and trees as hedgerows providing excellent cover on three of the four sides. What do you suggest I plant as a perennial, and how much of the tract should I attempt to cover, or devote to the plants that provide quail feed?

Thanks,
Al Denard

#4 Comment By Jim Evans On November 16, 2007 @ 12:45 pm

Al,
I am not sure what part of the quail range your property is located, so I will have to be a bit general in what I say here.
When I visit various quail properties, I often see that there is more of a need to manage the existing vegetation than there is a need to establish some sort of new planting.
If the open fields contain a mix of native annual weeds and native warm season grasses, you would probably be better off expending your effort managing this vegetation instead of establishing something
new.
Most of the areas in the bobwhite quail range suffer from a lack of feed late in the season. On smaller tracts like yours, it is usually more cost effective to manage the native cover in such a way that keeps the “weed fields” productive and provide supplemental feed during the winter months.
I have put out a DVD called “Managing Quail Fields”. This video goes into detail about how to economically manage fallow weed fields for quail and keep them productive and huntable. You can order this from our web site (qualitywildlife.com).
Hope this helps.
Sincerely,
Jim Evans

#5 Comment By pat ver hagen On December 10, 2008 @ 1:52 am

my property in ca . is loaded with quail due to my feeding. my goal now is to get water to the birds . any suggestions on types of watering trays ,also auto feeders would be helpful. right now i spread seed by riding my quad. i spread dailey. about 150lb.a month.any suggestions thank you

#6 Comment By Jim Evans On December 10, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

Pat,
If you go to the products page of our website qualitywildlife.com , you will see information about the Covey Base Camp.
This system provides water and feed. We have people using it for both California quail and Bobwhite quail.
The feed is suspended off the ground to reduce feeding by small rodents.
The unit contains a built in nipple watering system that hold approx. 3 gallons of water.
This may not seem like much water, but with this system there is no evaporation. This means that the water will go a long way.
Hope this helps.
Jim

#7 Comment By Scott On April 20, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

Hi Jim,
I googled ‘quail feed’ and found this website. I am planting a huge garden this year and am worried the quail will eat my seedlings. My garden is fenced with chain link which borders areas visited by the local quail population daily.
Is there something I can plant outside the fence to make it less likely that the quail will hop the fence to the garden? Thanks so much if you even find the time & energy for reply. Scott

#8 Comment By Jim Evans On April 21, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

Scott,
Our northern bobwhite quail here in the Southeastern states feed on seed during the fall and winter months, but shift to vegetation and insects during the hot summer months.
You told me that you are located in Northern Nevada so I assume that you are asking about either mountain or valley quail.
These species seem to feed almost entirely on vegetable matter year round so I can see where you might have a problem.
Ron Haaland is a friend of mine that has a lot more experience with your geographic region than – yours truly. Ron suggested that you might try planting a buffer area around the outside in some sort of crop that would emerge prior to your garden crop.
He suggested a mix of millet and peas, but I am sure that there are many different things you could plant. You might give your local extension office.
I wish I could help you more, but I am not that familiar with your geographic region – sorry.
Jim

#9 Comment By Patty Toal On October 13, 2011 @ 11:19 am

We just had a covey of 12 quail visit our flower garden in central Iowa. This is the first quail I have seen in over 25 years. We would like to help protect them and are wondering if it would help to feed them in the small area we have. We are on 2 acres with open land around us. There is a 1 acre pond on the vacant lot next to us with a couple acres of weeds and grasses around it. Across the street are corn and bean fields. There are a couple forested areas near as well. We think they were feeding on some thistle that blew out of the bird feeder during some high winds the other day. Any advise?

#10 Comment By Jim Evans On October 20, 2011 @ 11:19 am

Patty,
Feeding the quail would be a big help for the quail.
You could do this by scattering some wild bird seed in a nearby
thicket. Once the birds find the feed they will return to the feeding area more frequently as food will become harder to find as winter progresses.
Spreading the feed in a thicket will give the birds some cover (protection) from predators while they are feeding.
Remember that snow will cover any of the feed that you have spread on the
ground so you may want to put some kind of cover (like piece of plywood) over the feeding site once the quail get use to feeding there.
Hope this helps.
Jim Evans

hawks and pre

#11 Comment By Dennis QMRanch On January 22, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

Great info I’m a feeder And was thinking we were the only ones in world feeding Quail our project has been going on for a number of years and has produced over 900 to 1500 quail (gamble) people just think we’re crazy however it has secured a bird under stress in our area to coming back…no special funding or studies just my check book glad were not to crazy
Like to here from others.

DW

#12 Comment By Jim Evans On February 19, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

Great, keep up the good work.
Jim

#13 Comment By Kathryn On June 28, 2013 @ 7:46 am

We live in the middle of San Diego suburbia, attached to a protected mesa top. We have been feeding the quail for 25 years and they come to us when we call. However, we just went on a 16-day trip while the neighbors lightly fed the quail. No quail returned for at least 2 weeks and still (6 weeks later) no multiple tribes calling out to share the feast. I have found large scat that looks like a well-fed bobcat that is new to our little habitat. I can understand if the quail are lying low for the bobcat, but I fear that my absence has starved out the multitudes (easily 200 came through on a daily basis ~ now none that I see). BIG QUESTION: Did I starve them out, or why do I hear no more quail calls?
Thank you, Kathryn [P.S. We feed seed only so as to not attract rodents.]

#14 Comment By Jim Evans On July 12, 2013 @ 8:48 am

Sorry for the delay in getting back with you.

The quail may have wondered out of their normal home range to find a food source, especially if natural food sources were lacking and these quail were totally dependent on what you were providing.
Predation could be part of the pressure that pushed the birds as well. When food becomes scarce, quail have to travel further to find food. This takes them into new areas outside their normal home range and makes them more vulnerable to predators as well.

#15 Comment By Barbara S. Kujawa On February 3, 2014 @ 11:40 am

My son and I were discussing our quail just this a.m. and decided to check if we were doing the right thing as far as quail being wild and Mother Nature being available to them…great info. I plan on continuing my feeding of the quail (once a week) but drip line water every other day. I enjoy watching them scratch about for seeds. I’ll also check out the dove/quail seeds at PetSmart. Thanks again for all your surveys on quail. Bye for now.

#16 Comment By PAT O’HARE On March 19, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

Yes, it’s wonderful to see how many people are feeding the quail. 13 years ago, I bought a doublewide home on five acres here in southeastern Arizona. It is fenced with 4 string barbed wire, and I live across the road from a Centennial cattle ranch. In the beginning, I had quail all over the place, and new babies every spring, but lately the quail calls have gone away and while I still feed and water, I see quail very infrequently. LAst evening I put out some bird seed and saw several kinds of birds feeding. I had to get my binoculars and saw six male quail! I nearly cried! I am going to feed more of the things I am reading on this site, and will make sure there is water for my friends during this terrible drought.

#17 Comment By Barbara Goldsmith On August 12, 2014 @ 10:40 am

Hello: Love the info! I have about 100-200 quail (living in Hesperia) in my front bushes (I think they are some type of Juniper bush — they smell)…but a portion of the bushes got a bug and has died out…they are brown and nasty looking…but I am hesitant to remove as I love to watch my beautiful quail, they are so entertaining…This is a long rounded bush (around a circled drive way)…What can I do, do not want to let my beautiful creatures take up another residence…thank you!

#18 Comment By Jim Evans On August 14, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

Barbara,
Not sure what geographic area you are located in but to see that many quail during the breeding season, I get the idea that these are not bobwhites. The birds are probably seeking out a comfortable area to loaf during the heat of the day that will give them overhead cover.
You might try scattering some grain a couple of times per week in some other near-by cover.

#19 Comment By Brenda Bjornberg On April 20, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

Hello, I have 7-15 quail I feed on back patio for 13 yrs now. It is hard to determine when to feed or how much. They are here early in the morning and now they seem to be here every couple of hours until 8pm. I prefer to only feed in the morning. The dove, red-winged black bird, finch all join in as well. We started out on feeders up on the fence, then the mice showed up and because the birds are so messy when they eat it falls in my flower bed below. So we stopped that by feeding up on the patio and they clean up real well now. Nothing laying around after dark. So, do I need to feed them all day or twice a day or is once good enough to supplement them. Side notes: Our gardens are covered with bird netting. There is a large field behind our home. They live in a bunch of trees that had been cut down by the city along the canal road. We also keep water on back patio in a bowl. It is electric in the winter. The quail leave each winter and come back in spring. This is SW Idaho.

#20 Comment By Jim Evans On April 29, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

Brenda,
I would suggest that you take a look at our feeders on qualitywildlife.com and review the videos on our covey range feeder or our covey coop.
I designed these systems so that feeding by field mice and cotton rats was minimized.
If you are just going to manually feed your quail I would just put feed out each morning so that it would be pretty well cleaned up by night fall.
You will just have to keep an eye on how much to put out each morning because you are feeding other birds than just quail.

#21 Comment By Jim Evans On April 29, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

Kathryn,
Your situation is hard to diagnose from here in Georgia. I assume you are talking about the valley or California quail.
As the quail come into the breeding season the covey should be dispersing and breeding pairs forming. It is also possible that
the birds have shifted to another food source if the weather has allowed this to happen.
Once the breeding season is in full swing you should here the males calling if they are still in the area.
I know that in the case of bobwhite quail, quail will shift their home range too avoid predation if the attacks become too frequent.
I don’t think they “starved”.