Ok! It’s time to drop the tailgate of your truck and let me sit down with you for a few minutes to talk about what happens at a quail feeder during the course of a year. After we get finished, you may wish to review another article I wrote called, Methods of Feeding Quail . It discusses several ways to provide feed for quail and reviews the the role of food plots, the methods of spreading feed, and the use of feeders.
For now I want to discuss how a feeder comes into play during the various seasons of the year. Understanding feeder activity can help you gain insight as to what is going on with both your quail and their habitat.
I will tell you up front that what I am getting ready to share with you pertains to many years of observations obtained from monitoring Covey Base Camp feeders. If a Base Camp is concealed properly, it is predominately used by quail and not songbirds. This feeder is also suspended above the ground, which means the feed is not accessible to field mice. These characteristics allow me to interpret the use of the unit by quail. Feeders without these traits would make interpretation difficult.
Mid-September through Mid-October
This is the time of year I begin conducting pre-season releases of captive reared quail. Most of these projects are on areas that are actively managing or improving quail habitat. The feed and water systems are prepared and concealed throughout the property and birds are released. In the Southeast the “Fall Shuffle” is taking place. That is the time when coveys are forming and both the released and wild quail begin to mix. During this time of year, good quail habitat has abundant food and cover. Native quail are not heavily dependent on the feeders at this time. Early released quail, that are establishing their home ranges, are in the process of transitioning from the feeders to native foods. In this case we will see light to moderate use of feeders. In fact, during this time in drought years, I often see that water consumption is far greater than feed consumption.In marginal quail habitat, feed consumption is steady from day one. There seems to be no “weaning off” by my early released birds. Native quail are regular visitors as well. If this is the case on your land then you may need to concentrate on improving your habitat before the next year.
November – December
During this time, in good quail habitat, native food sources are diminishing as migratory birds, rodents, deer, and other wildlife also take their share. The weather has cooled off and quail need the higher energy foods like native seeds and grains. This is when I keep a closer eye on my feeders. Do not let the feed run out.
January – February
By now, even the best habitat is beginning to show the wear and tear of winter. Native feeds are scarce and the loss of cover in some areas has pushed coveys into scattered patches of remaining cover. This is the time of year you can get mixed signals from checking your feeder activity. Some feeders will show very heavy use of feed while others seem to be untouched. Take this as an opportunity to learn something about your property.A feeder that is abandoned during this time of year is often the result of one or two circumstances. It may be that there is a lack of support cover around the feeder itself. This will over-expose the birds to predators as they try to feed, and so they find another place to eat.In the second case the problem can be more widespread. Maybe this entire area of the property has lost too much cover to support quail. The once thick weeds are gone, and again the bobs are left out in the dangerous open territory. When this happens it is not uncommon to see very heavy feed use at another location with better cover. Not only are your original birds using that feeder, but you are supporting the other birds that have moved in as well.
This is a good time to take notice and see how you can improve the situation on your property for next year. In the first circumstance you must move the feeder to a better location. Put it near a briar patch or thicket so the birds can approach and leave the feeder under cover.
In the second scenario it may be that the area just needs another year’s growth to recover from burning, drought, or chemical work. Or maybe the soils are weak. Take a soil test and apply the necessary lime or fertilizer the next spring.
If you notice a similar shift in feeder use, but have adequate cover, then you are probably being plagued by predator pressure. You may have unknowingly located the feeder near a fox den or varmint trail. In this case you need to level the playing field by removing some varmints.
March – April
Supplemental feed is critical during this time. Even in what had been good habitat, we now see cover and feed are at annual minimum levels. Covey sizes have been greatly reduced throughout the season from predation and hunting, yet I have always been amazed at how much feed is consumed during this time by the remaining birds.Those feeders that are active during this period are key to keeping what birds you have left in good physical condition because they are located in areas that still afford adequate concealment.
If none of your feeders are showing much use during this time, then maybe you put ” the cart in front of the horse”. You will need to make a step by step plan to bring back the functional components of quail habitat.
Once again, if you are convinced that habitat is not the problem, then more than likely you have a very bad predator problem. If you don’t have the skill or desire to seriously attack the problem then hire a reputable predator management person to do the job.
May – August
During the month of May the feeders are being visited by breeding pairs instead of coveys. Weeds and bugs are making a comeback. Once the blackberries ripen, I notice a drastic reduction in the use of feed.In June July and August the weed growth has progressed enough to provide bugs, shade, and concealment. What else could a quail want?
Now it’s time to shut the tailgate and review what we’ve learned.The function of a feeder is to provide feed for the quail whenever it is lacking in the habitat. By paying attention to which feeders are used and which ones are not, we allow the quail to show us where we need to make the necessary cover improvements to meet their needs. They know more about this than any of us. Monitoring feeder use can also alert us to the need for predator management.
Habitat conditions can vary from one year to the next on the same piece of land because of weather patterns or management practices. Quail populations have no choice except to respond the best they can to the cards they are dealt. I hope this discussion help you stack the deck in favor of “Bobwhite” and leave you with a full house come this fall.