Quail Habitat Management Mistakes

As I visit parcels of quail land across the southeast, it is common for me to see practices that are done with the best of intentions though they are counter productive in regard to quail management. Let’s take a moment to discuss a few.
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Mistakes 1 – Making Access Trails Too Wide and Too Straight

You have got to remember that quail are trying to survive in a combat zone even when you are home watching a football game. As quail move from feeding areas to loafing areas they need to minimize their exposure to predators. Most of the quail range in the U.S. has seen a soaring increase of avian predators (hawks) during the past 30 years. If fact, Frank Barick ,a biologist from North Carolina, brought these facts to my attention. The most recent Breeding Bird Survey relates an 800% increase in the cooper’s hawk since 1966, while the quail population has decreased 70% in the same time frame. With this in mind, you need to manage your landscape so that it will offer plenty of overhead cover yet still be huntable. Jeep trails that are wide and straight make it easier for hawks and ground predators to observe the movement of coveys whenever they cross them.

The solution is not to mow your access trails any wider than necessary and where possible gently curve them as they traverse the area. This simple act will both decrease the time quail are exposed and create “blind spots” that will hide the birds as they cross the trails.

It is also a common practice to place access roads along the edge of quail fields right next to the wood line. Predators love this because this makes it even easier to locate the birds and usually cuts down on the distance needed to make a kill. By relocating your trails away from the woods edge, you can afford the birds more concealment as they travel from one habitat type to the other.

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Wide and straight roads along field edge expose birds as they travel from one habitat type to the other.

Blooper 2. – Mowing Around Food Plots.

Quail habitat that is functional should not look “clean”.

Some people will mow around feed patches to the point that they end up looking more like a golf course than a quail hunting area. When quail are hungry and food is in short supply, they will attempt to feed in such situations and end up paying the ultimate price.It is a good practice to rotate the placement of your food patches. Instead of harrowing up last season’s food plot, harrow up the ground along side of it and plant your crop there.

This will allow a second years growth to develop in last year’s plot . By next season this added cover next to your food plot will give the birds additional hiding places and loafing areas right next to their food source. If the cover is too thick you can always gap it with a mower to make it more huntable, but don’t mow it clean or you will turn your feed patch into a death trap.

Blooper 3. – Planting Wide Pine Strips in Your Quail Fields

The best quail habitat is a mixture of weeds and grasses. We often refer to this as a two to three year rough. This means that you can have great quail habitat without a single tree on the place. Many times people will plant wide strips of pines in small fields thinking it will help their quail habitat. They enjoy this situation until the trees get to about three or four years old and then BOOM – it is all over. As the trees cut out sunlight and drink up all the water, all that we find underneath them is a matt of pine straw and a pile of feathers.

The woods hawks we mentioned earlier prefer this type of habitat to hunt from. They often flush the quail from the field and the desperate birds fly to what looks like a last hope of survival – the pine strips. Once the quail enters the pines he will find no cover, and Mr. Cooper Hawk will make a quick meal of him. Anyone who has radio tracked quail in such areas can attest to this fact.

If you are trying to break up a very large field you may want to use pine strips to create wind breaks. If you do, plant them only three or four rows wide and space the trees apartten or twelve feet between the rows and between trees, so cover can be maintained in them throughout the growth cycle. In other words, if you plant any pines for quail you need to forget commonly accepted forest management practices and keep in mind the purpose for which you are planting. Is it quail or $4.50 per ton pulp wood chips?.

Image 4. Areas of planted pines in quail fields are good for predators,but tough on quail.

Everyone would love to own a place that looks like one of the fabulous Albany Georgia quail plantations. If you are trying to create quail land from a mature pine forest you may opt for a series of thinnings over several years to create such a place. However, if you are developing your quail land from recently abandoned farm fields, be conservative about the use of pines.

Mistake 4. Over Sizing and-Misplacing Bicolor Patches

For years, bicolor lespedeza has been presented in the southeast as the best thing since “cheese grits” in providing food and cover for quail. Though it can be a good component, more often than not, I see it planted in such a manner that it becomes an obstacle instead of an attribute on many quail fields. By this I mean that patches are either too big, in poor locations, or both.

Early literature encouraged managers to plant bicolor in patches 15 feet wide and 500 feet long. One hunting season will teach you that quail know it is safer to run in rather than fly from such an immense thicket. I have found the best size patches to be about six rows wide and no more than about one hundred and fifty feet long. This size planting will be functional for the birds but also huntable . Quail will usually exit the patch on the wing in a reasonable distance for me to get a shot and miss anyway.

The second bicolor blunder is to establish the patch parallel to pine strips or thick wooded field edges. A situation like this allows the quail to exit on foot into dense and often inaccessible cover. It is far better to establish your bicolor perpendicular to the field edge. This way if your dogs go on point in it, you can attempt to flush the covey out toward the field, giving you a better shooting opportunity . It is better to have several of these small plantings than it is to have one big one.

Mistake 5. -Not Controlling Predators

Most small mammals preying on quail operate at night. If you have hard surface soils such as clay, you may not even see many tracts. But, wherever you have quail you will have things that eat quail. If you have a lot of quail you will tend to have a lot of things that eat quail. One example comes to mind . A fellow called us and said he was having trouble holding quail on his land. He had released birds prior to the hunting season. The habitat was acceptable so we suggested predation could be a factor. He said this was not a problem last year, but in desperation he agreed to have a trapper come in and work on the 125 acre tract. At the end of about ten days of trapping, 2 bobcat, 11 fox, and 16 raccoons were removed. There are some that would say this won’t make a difference, but if you were a quail trying to survive on that piece of land, I think you would beg to differ with them.

Summary

A new DVD is available called, “Managing Quail Fields”. In this DVD, biologist Jim Evans shows you several of the techinques he uses to create and manage productive quail fields. For more information on this eye-opening presentation, CLICK HERE.

Image8Knowledge and commitment can make it happen.

2 thoughts on “Quail Habitat Management Mistakes

  1. willie

    If you had a small piece of land 60 acres and you had quail to release, would you have brush piles for the birds to hide in if you were going to hunt them?

  2. Jim Evans Post author

    I don’t know what state you are in so I am guessing about what type of natural cover you may have on your property.
    If your habitat is mostly made up of annual weeds and native grasses, then having several brush piles scattered through out the property should help protect the quail from avian predators and assist in holding the birds in the area.

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