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Understanding the Seasonal Use of Quail Feeders

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?

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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.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Understanding the Seasonal Use of Quail Feeders"

#1 Comment By Lyle Diehl On November 2, 2007 @ 11:19 am

I read your article, Understanding the Seasonal Use of Quail Feeders, and it sounds like you are releasing pen raised birds at the begining of Sept. and you are saying they survive. I have never heard of pen raised birds survivng more then a couple of weeks at best, under any circumstances.

#2 Comment By Jim Evans On November 6, 2007 @ 11:34 am

Lyle,
The thought that released quail will only live a short time is true if you just dump the quail out into poor habitat loaded with predators.
The same is true if you dump wild quail out into a new location of poor habitat and lots of predators.
Please read the Boots and Briars articles entitled, THE CRITICAL ELEMENTS OF RELEASING QUAIL, and also DO EARLY RELEASED QUAIL RUN OFF MY WILD QUAIL. These articles will help you understand more about the general topic.
Also it would be helpful if you obtained a copy of our DVD called, PUTTING QUAIL BACK IN YOUR QUAIL HUNTING (you can order it online).
Once you have read these articles and have any more questions, feel free to ask me or call our office number is 877-242-2482.

#3 Comment By L. Marvin Slappey On September 22, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

I live in Ga, are seeing quail come back on my place-gone for 15 yrs–saw 1st wild cover at lunch in old remnant bi color patch from 30 yrs ago—-what quail cover should I start planting next yr ?

#4 Comment By Jim Evans On September 26, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

Mr. Slappey,
It is hard for me to be specific without seeing your property, but I will try to give you some ideas.
Often people want to start out by “planting something for quail” instead to improving the native habitat that already exists. For example, if you have a field that is solid broomsedge you could harrow narrow strips through the field during the fall and winter months. This activity would create a mix of weeds and grasses in the field the following year.

#5 Comment By Jim Evans On September 26, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

Mr. Slappey,
It is hard for me to be specific without seeing your property, but I will try to give you some ideas.
Often people want to start out by “planting something for quail” instead to improving the native habitat that already exists. For example, if you have a field that is solid broomsedge you could harrow narrow strips through the field during the fall and winter months. This activity would create a mix of weeds and grasses in the field the following year.
If the field is overgrown with brush, you may need to control burn the old field in the winter to convert the area into more productive quail habitat.
Annual plantings of sorghum or millets are usually done after you have “reclaimed ” the acres for quail to begin with.
You can go to our “books and video” section at qualitywildlife.com and obtain the DVD called Managing Quail Fields, in this video I show you how to perform many management practices that will allow you to create all the different habitat types needed for quail.
Hope this has helped you.
Thanks

#6 Comment By matt On October 27, 2008 @ 11:50 am

I live in the panhandle of Oklahoma and now nothing about quail but I understand that this area can produce if done right. The land I have is flat but has lots of weedy area with a water hole. I am trying to find out about what I need to do to start trying to bring the quail more into the area?

#7 Comment By Jim Evans On October 29, 2008 @ 10:13 am

Matt,
I would suggest that you give Roger Wells a call. He is the habitat coordinator for Quail Unlimited and lives in Americus , Kansas.
His office number is (316) 443-5834.
Roger has a working knowledge of quail management and habitat development in your geographic region.

#8 Comment By stephen edwards On January 4, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

I really like the hybrids “Tennessee Reds” , and wish to introduce them to our KY farm…will they prosper and comingle with the Bobwhites? What are the pros and cons to putting out the Reds?
We are getting them about 22 weeks old.

#9 Comment By Jim Evans On January 16, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

Stephen,
I am not aware of any problems with using Tenn. Reds.
They will often form “mixed coveys” when released with the standard northern bobwhite.

#10 Comment By Bobi – Sun City Homeowners Association On December 9, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

We are attempting to find a quail feeder that only the quail will enter. Our residents (46,000+) do not appreciate the pigeons that show up when folks are trying to feed the quail only. Can you direct us to a manufacturer or supplier? Thanks so much for your assistance.

#11 Comment By Jim Evans On December 27, 2010 @ 10:49 am

Bobi,
The Covey Coop feeder was designed specifically for quail to reduce the use of the feeder by non-target species. I would recommend that the coop be filled with sorghum or milo and placed in a thicket or substantial briar patch. The design of the feeder , along with the location of the feeder in heavier cover,
will greatly reduce its use by pigeons.
Please go to my home page http://www.qualitywildlife.com/ to see a short video clip of how this works.
If you have any questions, pleae call me or Yvonne at 877-242-2482.
Thanks
Jim Evans