Methods of Feeding Quail

When I was a kid, my dad and I would go to an old farm near Hawkinsville, Georgia and just go hunting. We never planted a food plot or put out any feed, yet each year we harvested enough quail to include on the menu for the family Christmas dinner. So why do we need to provide feed sources for quail today?

There are many factors that I could bring up, but let me briefly touch on two : high deer populations and sod forming grasses. I have been managing quail properties in the southeast for many years. Here it is common for me to see a proliferation of seed producing plants emerge during the spring on acreage that was control burned the previous winter. During the summer months these same plants are browsed heavily by deer. Though there is still seed production for quail, it is greatly reduced.

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The second most common factor I see is an invasion of introduced species of sod-forming grasses such as Bermuda grass, Bahia grass, and Fescue. These can spread like a cancer and eliminate the growth of seed producing plants that make the foundation of quail habitat.
With these two factors and many more working to deplete food sources, many landowners must provide feed for their birds. This can be accomplished in several ways.

Food plots can be one way to furnish additional feed. However, if deer are limiting the amount of native seed available in late winter, then they may hamper the success of your food plots. If this is the case you may wish to read another article I wrote and posted on this site called, Using Egyptian Wheat for Quail Management.

Feed lines or broadcast feeding is another approach. This method involves distributing feed with equipment. This equipment could be as common as a fertilizer spreader, scattering the seed behind the tractor or as specialized as a REGULATOR.

The REGULATOR is a piece of equipment that looks similar to a grain wagon and is pulled by a tractor. This gives you the advantage of being able to blow the feed into cover thirty feet away from the road or path being used by the tractor. The point is this, you don’t want to spread feed in open areas or you you will be exposing your quail to more predation.

Broadcast feeding is done every ten to fourteen days. Some plantations drive a given route without turning off the spreader until they reach the end of the designated feed line. Other operations spread intermittently along an area of suitable cover throughout the quail land. Each time the feed is distributed in the same vicinity.

Smaller grains, such as wheat or sorghum are generally used for this kind of feeding. I personally do not recommend spreading corn because once the deer discover it you will be losing a lot to the “flop ears” instead of quail. Again, avoid putting feed on roads where the quail may become “fast food” for hawks.

This method is generally used on larger tracts of land and works quite well. However, since you will be feeding a host of song birds and mice as well as quail, large amounts of grain are necessary. Thus, you will need bulk storage facilities.

The use of feeders is also a good way to provide supplemental feed to quail. This approach is the most practical on average and small size tracts of land. Small ground feeders such as the “Scruggs” feeder have been around for a long time. They work well but still make the feed available to field mice. The Covey Coop quail field feeder uses a different approach. It is a covered feeder and watering system that is suspended in a frame. This unit places the feed out of reach for mice, yet it is accessible to quail and keeps it dry during wet weather.Regardless of the type of equipment, the kind of feed used can make a difference. For years I have used either wheat or sorghum in my feeders. These whole grains are less likely to absorb moisture from the air and mold. Also they are high energy foods desired by quail in winter.

I never use commercial gamebird feed in a range feeder. The processed feed tends to form clumps. This process also gives off an odor that attracts raccoons and other varmints. I never use “chicken scratch feed” either. It is usually a low-grade feed with some salt in the mix, which along with moisture from the air can sour the feed.

You may wonder about putting soybeans in your feeder. Several times I have tested the feeding preferences of quail by offering them a choice of wheat, “red” sorghum, or soybeans. When given these three choices, they have always preferred the wheat first, the sorghum second, and the soybeans last. If the sorghum I offered was one of the “yellow” varieties, it was a toss up between the wheat and sorghum. I am sure that if a bird is hungry and has no choice he would not turn down the soybean, but if you want to entice the covey, you may consider these results.

Some of the basic things to remember when using feeders:

Concealing the feeder unit is important. Regardless of what kind of feeder you use, try to place it in a location of good cover. The idea is to hide the birds while they are busy feeding.

Servicing the feeders must be on a regular basis. How often you will have to service a feeder will depend on the size of the feeder. Keep in mind that as winter progresses the amount of feed used will usually increase.

Regardless of the method used, feeding involves time and effort. Although the main objective is to hold the birds on your property, research has shown there are other benefits as well.

The Albany Quail project team and Tall Timbers Research Station have shown that feeding quail increases the populations overwinter survival and can enhance their reproductive potential. It seems that when food supplies are scare, quail have to cover a much larger area to find enough food. This increases the possibility of predation. Supplemental feeding reduces both the area and time needed for birds to obtain adequate food thus:

more feed => smaller home range => less predation = Higher

Survival These same studies also showed increased reproductive output as a benefit of extra feeding because the quail were in better physical condition at the onset of the nesting season.

I hope that now you will be able to digest some of this information and see how supplemental feeding can enhance your bird program. Perhaps you can have quail for your Christmas dinner, too.

Feed lines or broadcast feeding is another approach. This method involves distributing feed with equipment. This equipment could be as common as a fertilizer spreader, scattering the seed behind the tractor or as specialized as a REGULATOR.

The REGULATOR is a piece of equipment that looks similar to a grain wagon and is pulled by a tractor. This gives you the advantage of being able to blow the feed into cover thirty feet away from the road or path being used by the tractor. The point is this, you don’t want to spread feed in open areas or you you will be exposing your quail to more predation.

Broadcast feeding is done every ten to fourteen days. Some plantations drive a given route without turning off the spreader until they reach the end of the designated feed line. Other operations spread intermittently along an area of suitable cover throughout the quail land. Each time the feed is distributed in the same vicinity.

Smaller grains, such as wheat or sorghum are generally used for this kind of feeding. I personally do not recommend spreading corn because once the deer discover it you will be losing a lot to the “flop ears” instead of quail. Again, avoid putting feed on roads where the quail may become “fast food” for hawks.

This method is generally used on larger tracts of land and works quite well. However, since you will be feeding a host of song birds and mice as well as quail, large amounts of grain are necessary. Thus, you will need bulk storage facilities.

The use of feeders is also a good way to provide supplemental feed to quail. This approach is the most practical on average and small size tracts of land. Small ground feeders such as the “Scruggs” feeder have been around for a long time. They work well but still make the feed available to field mice. The Covey Coop quail field feeder uses a different approach. It is a covered feeder and watering system that is suspended in a frame. This unit places the feed out of reach for mice, yet it is accessible to quail and keeps it dry during wet weather.Regardless of the type of equipment, the kind of feed used can make a difference. For years I have used either wheat or sorghum in my feeders. These whole grains are less likely to absorb moisture from the air and mold. Also they are high energy foods desired by quail in winter.

I never use commercial gamebird feed in a range feeder. The processed feed tends to form clumps. This process also gives off an odor that attracts raccoons and other varmints. I never use “chicken scratch feed” either. It is usually a low-grade feed with some salt in the mix, which along with moisture from the air can sour the feed.

You may wonder about putting soybeans in your feeder. Several times I have tested the feeding preferences of quail by offering them a choice of wheat, “red” sorghum, or soybeans. When given these three choices, they have always preferred the wheat first, the sorghum second, and the soybeans last. If the sorghum I offered was one of the “yellow” varieties, it was a toss up between the wheat and sorghum. I am sure that if a bird is hungry and has no choice he would not turn down the soybean, but if you want to entice the covey, you may consider these results.

Some of the basic things to remember when using feeders:

Concealing the feeder unit is important. Regardless of what kind of feeder you use, try to place it in a location of good cover. The idea is to hide the birds while they are busy feeding.

Servicing the feeders must be on a regular basis. How often you will have to service a feeder will depend on the size of the feeder. Keep in mind that as winter progresses the amount of feed used will usually increase.

Regardless of the method used, feeding involves time and effort. Although the main objective is to hold the birds on your property, research has shown there are other benefits as well.

The Albany Quail project team and Tall Timbers Research Station have shown that feeding quail increases the populations overwinter survival and can enhance their reproductive potential. It seems that when food supplies are scare, quail have to cover a much larger area to find enough food. This increases the possibility of predation. Supplemental feeding reduces both the area and time needed for birds to obtain adequate food thus:

more feed => smaller home range => less predation = Higher

Survival These same studies also showed increased reproductive output as a benefit of extra feeding because the quail were in better physical condition at the onset of the nesting season.

I hope that now you will be able to digest some of this information and see how supplemental feeding can enhance your bird program. Perhaps you can have quail for your Christmas dinner, too.

4 thoughts on “Methods of Feeding Quail

  1. kim

    Jim,
    surfing the web looking for information about quail, stumbled onto this page, thanks for the infromation.

    I have about 50 acreas of mixed habitat, 15 yr old planted pines that i have been cutting between the rows, leaving every third row to grow. some open fields natural, im cutting those once a year, and two pastures with bahai grass. I have a lot of turkeys and deer, and few quail, I would like to support the quail but don’t know how. I hear about controlled burn but im not sure thats safe in my area.

  2. Jim Evans Post author

    Kim,
    With only 50 acres to work with, a lot of what you can do depends on what kind of habitat surrounds your property.
    If you are bordered by habitat that is already supporting a few birds, you might be able to do something. However, if you are bordered by solid forest land or sod-grass fields, the chances of getting any positve results on 50 acres are bleak.
    I don’t know what state or geographic area you are in, but that could make a difference as well , especially when considering the use of control burning.
    If you are interested in using the fifty acres to train or work a bird dog you could make habitat improvements and set up a couple Johnny Houses (recall pens).
    You might want to go to our website, qualitywildlife.com . There you will see that we have a DVD called “Managing Quail Fields” . It goes into all the aspects of how to manage a small tract of land for quail.
    You may also want to order “Johnny Houses for Quail”. This DVD shows you everything about you to place, stock, and manage a quail recall pen for holding quail to use for working your bird dog.
    Hope this helps.
    Thanks
    Jim

  3. Mary

    Hi Jim,

    We have a 117 acre ranch in Gonzales County, TX. Since buying it, we have been working hard to bring the place back to its natural habitat as it had been overgrazed. Our property is in the post oak savannah, but we also have a couple of cleared areas, and several large areas with various oak trees. We also have a couple of areas with large mesquite and prickly pears. Three years ago, we were happy to see the tall grasses grow back which include little bluestem and a couple of other grasses wich we are not sure what they are. This past fall, my husband and son spotted 3 quail on the property while hiking. I would like to help the quail populate. We allow for prescribed grazing once a year for only 2-3 weeks. Will this prescribed grazing harm the quail? I would like to put a quail feeder next to one of the ponds that has good tree cover.
    Thanks, Mary

  4. Jim Evans Post author

    Mary,
    Prescribed grazing as you have described is usually considered beneficial for quail.
    The intensity and frequency of grazing is dependent on the particulars of your geographic region.
    Dale Rollins is an extension agent in Texas that would be able to give you specifics.
    Dale’s e-mail is (d-rollins@tamu.edu)
    Thanks
    Jim Evans

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