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CONSERVATION CORNER

(For the week of October 27, 2008)
Bobwhite Quail Management
by James L. Cummins

The bobwhite quail is one of the premiere birds in Mississippi. While the excitement of quail enthusiasts has continued to flourish, quail populations have decreased over past years. According to most recent data, quail populations have been decreasing at a rate of 3 percent per year. However, many things can be done to improve existing lands for quail.

Before managing for quail, one must have knowledge of their biology. During late March, coveys of quail break into pairs. Pairs will usually remain together until the nesting and rearing of chicks are complete. Nesting occurs from May through October. Approximately 14 eggs are produced per pair on an annual basis. It takes 23 days for eggs to hatch. After hatching, chicks eat small insects for several weeks before their diet changes to seeds. Food must be available all year and located near cover.

There are many practices landowners can employ to improve quail habitat. Some of our state’s land can be much more productive for quail if cultivation is discontinued after midsummer and stubble is left unplowed throughout winter. If fall plowing is needed, leaving a 100-foot strip around field borders would be very beneficial for quail. Also, if one can leave small strips of un-harvested crops such as soybeans, wheat or corn, quality bobwhite quail habitat will be provided during the winter. Many fields have areas that are not used for crop production. Usually, these spots occur in field corners, around edges and in shaded areas next to forests. These spots can provide much of the quail’s needs on a year-round basis. A good rule of thumb is to keep strips at least 15 feet wide.

Besides the area around edges of large fields that are not in production, there may be areas along ditches or low lying areas that break up large, open fields into smaller units. These areas can be developed into good quail habitat by leaving undisturbed strips of native vegetation approximately 30 feet wide. Maintenance on these strips would include disking or burning one side of each strip every 2 years in late winter. Planting strips of lespedeza along these areas will also provide an excellent food source during the late winter, and a place for the chicks to find insects during early summer.

However, food plots will not automatically increase quail populations. For example, the limiting factor in an area may be a lack of good nesting or good habitat. There are many different types of foods that are preferred by bobwhite quail. Plants that are good for quail include cow pears, wild reseeding soybean, partridge pea, kobe lespedeza and shrub lespedeza, as well as many of our state’s native warm-season grasses.


James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.