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Bobwhite Quail

by James B. “Jim” Kea
Area Extension Forestry Agent – now retired
Thursday, February 9th, 2006

If you are a bobwhite – quail fancier, your thoughts at this time of year are probably where to find the birds when hunting or why they are so wild and hard to hit. You may be concerned because you don’t find birds in the same places you used to, and wonder what happened to them.

According to Wildlife Specialists with the Agricultural Extension Services and the Wildlife Resources Commission, there are some good reasons for many changes in bobwhite abundance and habits. These reasons relate to the basic necessities all living creatures must have – such things as food, shelter and protection from enemies. All of these things are affected by changes in farm practice and land use. And the important thing is that with a little effort we can provide these basic necessities for the bobwhite.

Quail are birds that like old fields, wood edges, and small openings in the woods. They need some low, dense cover for nesting in summer and roosting in winter, thick escape cover for protection from enemies, and a year round supply of food. In the summer, they eat fruit and insects, but during the fall and winter, they exist primarily on seeds. They prefer the seeds of legumes such as lespedezas and partridge peas and crops such as soybeans, cowpeas, and corn.

Good quail habitat consists of these requirements in close proximity so that all the needs of the birds are met in a relatively small area. By utilizing field edges, small openings and odd corners, quail habitat can be provided with little extra trouble or cost. Sometimes it’s as simple as not clearing up the tangle of honeysuckle and briars in the back corner of the field. In other cases, it may require leaving a few rows of soybeans at the edge of the field or planting the field border with food cover. In pine woods, particularly in the Coastal Plains, controlled burning can be used to stimulate growth of quail food plants, but this must be done carefully with close supervision.

Detailed information on managing natural vegetation along field edges or planting food plots is available in several new quail related publications entitled: Bobwhite Quail, Managing Edges for Wildlife , Planting ACR land for Wildlife and Commercial Sources for Wildlife Planting Materials at the Extension Center.


Revised 2/16/2006, 10/13/2011.

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