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QUAIL FACTS & FAQ

Learn all about QUAIL!

Quail 101

Quail Identification & Different Quail Species


Six native species of quail are found in North America, and all of them benefit from the work of Quail Forever. Although similar in size, quail species throughout the United States differ greatly in preferred habitat conditions. Bobwhite Quail: The bobwhite quail has the largest range of any game bird in America. The most common species of quail, the bobwhite is often referred to as the number one game bird of the eastern and southern United States. The name "bobwhite" derives from its characteristic whistling call. Males have a white throat and brow stripe bordered by black compared to brown colored females. California Quail: California quail are also known as valley quail. Also known as valley quail, California quail are the most popular of the five species of western quail. These birds have a curving crest or plume, made of six feathers, that droops forward: black in males and brown for females; the flanks are brown with white streaks. Mountain Quail: Mountain quail are only found in Washington, Oregon, California and parts of Nevada. The largest quail species found in the United States, Mountain quail possess a unique characteristic of two straight feathers that arch over the back. These birds are easily recognized by their top knots, which are shorter in the female. They have a brown face and heavily white-barred underside. Gambel's Quail: Though they look similar to California quail, the two species' ranges do not overlap. Also known as desert quail, Gambel's quail are located in dry regions of the southwestern United States. Gambel's quail are easily recognized by their top knots and scaly plumage on their undersides. They have gray plumage on their bodies, and males have copper feathers on the top of their heads, black faces, and white stripes above their eyes. Scaled Quail: Scaled quail are also commonly called blue quail. Also known as blue quail, Scaled quail are known for their blue scaled appearance. Along with its scaly markings, the bird is easily identified by its white crest that resembles a tuft of cotton. Mearn’s Quail: Mearns' quail are also known as the montezuma quail. With the smallest range in the United States, the Mearn's quail is found in southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. They live in mountain areas populated with oak and juniper trees, as well as grasslands. Often referred to as Montezuma quail, they have a unique coloration of feathers which aids in their means of camoflauge. Learn more HERE.




Quail Ecology


Quail are birds that are typically found in small flocks, otherwise known as "coveys." In late spring and early summer, coveys begin to break up as pair bonds form between individual males and females prior to the breeding season. Quail spend most of their lives in a relatively small area, with groups of 8 to 25 birds common in a single covey. Flight speed of most quail is 30 to 40 mph. Quail generally forage twice a day, in early morning and mid-to-late afternoon. Quail eat a wide variety of foods including insects, seeds, leaves, and berries. Young quail also feed very heavily on insects, gradually shifting to a greater proportion of seeds as they near adult size. Learn more HERE.




Basic Quail Facts


Weight: 5-10 ounces depending on the species Length: 6-12 inches depending on the species Flight Speed: 30-40 mph Favorite Foods: Insects, waste grains, weed seeds, and berries Preferred Habitat: Early successional habitat to brushy areas throughout the country Average Nest Initiation: Early summer Length of Incubation: 23-25 days Average First Hatch: End of June Average Clutch Size: 7-28 depending on the species Average Nest Success: 40-60% Broods Per Year: 1-2; persistent renesters Average Rate of Chick Survival: 40-50% Major Nest Predators: Raccoon, opossum, snake, skunk Major Adult Predators: Human, hawk, fox, owl Learn more HERE.




Quail Survival


Rarely, if ever, does a quail die of old age. In fact, the average life span is less than 1 year. Quail are a prey species and face major sources of mortality beginning the day it is laid in the nest as an egg. On average, 70 percent to 80 percent of the nation's quail population is lost each year; this high mortality rate is off-set by large broods of wild quail. Learn more HERE.





Upland Habitat

Quail Nesting Cover Basics


Nesting cover is the single most significant limiting factor for wildlife populations, which makes it a major consideration for upland habitat projects. Here are some considerations for ideal nesting cover:

  • Secure - Cover providing overhead and horizontal concealment from predators
  • Undisturbed - Free from both human (mowing, dog training) and weather related (flooding) disturbances
  • Diverse - Ideal nesting cover should contain several species of grasses and forbs at a minimum
  • Dynamic - Planning ahead to manage for diverse nesting cover yields the best results
  • Structure - Research has shown that quail perfer to nest within reasonable distance of an "edge" - an area where two habitats intersect
  • Unconventional - Roadsides also provide habitat with up to five acres of potential nesting cover along each mile of rural Midwest roads.
Quail are "edge" birds, using field and border edges for feeding, nesting and cover. Quail live out their lives within a home range of about 40 acres, requiring all habitat components (nesting cover, brood habitat, covey headquarters, and food plots) to be in close proximity. Learn more HERE.




Quail Winter Cover Basics


As temperatures plummet and snow blankets grassland habitat, quail and other wildlife utilize winter cover to seek shelter from the bitter winds and heavy snow. Exposure to the extremes of winter can limit the condition and number of quail that survive to the nesting season, leading to reduced reproduction the following spring. Quality winter cover located near a high-energy food source can provide the elements needed by quail and other wildlife to survive in harsh winter conditions. Shelterbelts or stiff-stemmed native grasses such as switch grass are examples of good winter cover. Since the bobwhite has a small travel area, two habitat requirements, such as food and cover, should be available in close proximity. Learn more HERE.




Quail Brood Rearing Cover Basics


Brood rearing cover is another important component to successful quail management. Broad leaf plants attract insects critical for chick survival during a broods' first few weeks of life. Species like alfalfa, sweet clover, wild flowers, and a diverse group of native legumes can be incorporated into grassland seeding mixes to create brood rearing habitat. Reducing the number and acres of row cropped food plots and converting them to brooding habitat areas can increase chick survival on your property. Other important brood rearing cover components: Protection - Good lateral and overhead concealment from predators Openness - Travel corridors at ground level to feed freely through a stand of cover Bug Production - Food sources readily available for hungry chicks Learn more HERE.





Food & Cover Plots

Overview: Helping Carry Quail Through The Toughest Winters


There are two critical factors for food plot design—location next to heavy cover (i.e. shelterbelts or covey headquarters) and size. If there is no winter cover available, food plots must be large enough to provide significant cover in addition to being a food source.

Food plots can be established almost anywhere, even on Conservation Reserve or Wetland Reserve Program land, or right next to a farm grove. Above all else, the key to a successful food plot is its location next to heavy winter cover that is frequented by quail and other upland wildlife.
Learn more HERE.




Designing A Food Plot For Quail


In open country, up to 50 rows of standing crop can be filled in a single blizzard. Large (3-10 acre) square or block-type food plots are preferable to smaller, linear food plots. Whenever possible, large food plots should be located directly adjacent to woody and herbaceous winter cover on the windward side (generally the northwest). If this is not possible, effective food plots can be established nearby if they are linked via corridors of escape cover to traditional winter cover. Where winter cover is scarce, large 10-acre-plus blocks of corn may be planted to serve as both food and shelter for the birds. Bear in mind that these areas will be used by many species of wildlife and that some, such as deer and turkeys, consume a great deal of grain daily and can potentially exhaust food resources well before winter has ended. If plots will be small, minimize drifting by establishing snow traps (leave 4-6 rows windward, then harvest 12-20 adjacent rows as a snow catch). This same approach can be used to make wetlands, and small patches of woody cover more effective wintering areas—place food plots on their windward side to catch snow before it enters the winter roosting cover. Link any nearby satellite food plots to the best winter cover with travel corridors of heavy vegetation. Learn more HERE.




What To Plant: The Best Plants For Quail


Plan your food plots carefully, taking the worst-case scenario into account. Don't bother to create a project that is going to be buried by the first winter blizzard. Corn and grain sorghum are among the most reliable food sources. Planted separately or in combinations, they retain grain on stalks, stand well in winter weather and provide very high-energy food. Large blocks of corn, and combinations of forage sorghum and grain sorghum can also provide excellent cover. See Quail Forever's Signature Series Seed Mixes. Wheat, soybeans, millets, rye, and buckwheat are good food sources, but are often buried by snow, forcing birds into the open to utilize them. Learn more HERE.




Establishing Your Plot: Getting Started


Whether by standard tractor and corn planter, grain drill, or via broadcast seeder mounted on an ATV or pickup truck, there is a way to get a food plot in the ground where it will do the most good for wildlife. If you are without planting equipment, it may be available to rent from local conservation offices. Some agencies and some chapters of Quail Forever provide planting services at nominal rates, and there are often local custom operators willing to plant these areas. Learn more HERE.




Check Local Sources For Assistance


It often works well to dovetail with farm programs like the Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve Programs, which have acreage eligible for food plots. Food plots on these acres make valuable use of land that is already wildlife habitat. Acreage allowances and crop restrictions vary by state, so contact your local Quail Forever farm bill biologist or local USDA Service Center for local guidelines. State wildlife agencies may also provide food plot assistance to landowners. Learn more HERE.





Effects of Predators

Quail Ecology & Predators


No single predator gets more blame for quail predation than coyotes, but research over several decades has proven that coyotes focus their foraging on rodents and rabbits and do not take adult quail or nests as frequently as the other mammalian predators (red fox, striped skunk, and raccoon). In addition, the larger home range and territorial nature of coyotes can actually result in lower populations of these other, more destructive predators. Predation accounts for three-fourths of unsuccessful nests, and nearly all of adult mortality (excluding hunting) is directly predator related. The best way to minimize the threat of predators? Make their job tougher with more upland habitat.

Bottom line: Through the addition and management of habitat, we not only decrease the impact predators have on existing nests, but also increase the number of nests and population size in the area. This management comes at a fraction of the cost of other predator reduction methods. Learn more HERE.




More Habitat, Less Predation, Best Outcome


Less-expensive methods to improve game bird populations and nesting success exist. Experts have focused on the amount of habitat (composition of the landscape) and the arrangement (configuration) that increase nesting success by reducing the effectiveness of predators. Well-designed habitat projects can reduce predation by up to 80 percent. A lack of quality cover can make quail susceptible to predators – of both aerial and ground variety. Larger patches of nesting cover (more than 40 acres) have significantly higher rates of nest success than smaller sized patches. For example, in agricultural landscapes where the primary form of grassland habitat is road and drainage ditches, predator activity is concentrated on those smaller strips of cover. In landscapes having a greater component of grassland habitat, predator activity is diluted throughout the many patches of habitat. In addition to diluting predator activity, high grassland landscapes reduce the efficiency of predators. Cover quality is also important. Dense blocks of undisturbed cover, such as Conservation Reserve Program acreage that is not mowed or grazed, are the most effective at reducing predation. Dense mixtures of grasses and forbs offering good residual cover after winter are highly selected by hen quail because they conceal nests from both avian and mammalian predators. Learn more HERE.




Predator Removal: A Small Scale Remedy


Early attempts to decrease the impact of predators on quail populations focused on reducing the overall number of predators, mainly through trapping. These efforts are effective for small areas but are dependent on three important factors.

  • Trapping efforts must reduce nest predator populations during the key period of recruitment—beginning prior to, and continuing throughout the entire quail nesting season (approximately 100 days).
  • Trapping needs to extend beyond the boundaries of the controlled area. Most nest predators have large home ranges and if trapping efforts fail to account for this, predators from surrounding areas will still negatively impact nesting success within the controlled area.
  • Most importantly, a successful removal program is a professional, full-time effort. The occasional removal of individual animals by hunters has very little impact on predator populations and trapping efforts that rely on bounties are destined to fail.
It is important to understand that sustained trapping efforts tend to stimulate reproduction by predators (compensating for artificially low densities) and create populations with proportionately more juveniles that wander more across the landscape thereby increasing the chances of encountering quail. Learn more HERE.




Effects of Predators: A Summary


While predator removal and exclusion methods can increase nesting success in small areas, these methods are too expensive for use on a landscape basis and do not significantly increase the number of nesting birds over the long term. Through the addition and management of habitat, we not only decrease the impact predators have on existing nests, but also increase the number of nests and population size in an area. Predators will continue to eat quail and their nests, but weather and habitat conditions will drive population fluctuations. Learn more HERE.





Effects of Weather

Weather: A Key Factor Driving Quail Populations


Weather is another extremely important factor in determining quail numbers. Severe winter storms can potentially decimate quail populations overnight. Cold wet springs can claim an equally devastating number of newborn chicks who do not develop the ability to regulate their own temperature until three weeks of age. The direct effects of weather are obvious—less obvious is the indirect role weather can play on quail numbers. Quail moving considerable distances from their roosting and loafing areas for food during severe weather burn up much-needed energy and expose themselves to predators. Learn more HERE.




Quail Thrive In Mild Weather


Generally speaking, quail do best in mild weather conditions. Mild weather is especially appreciated during the nesting period, as the amount of rainfall can greatly determine nesting success. Rain is essential in that it spurs vegetation growth, creates nesting cover, and attracts insects for new broods to feed on. However, heavy rains or flash flood events can wash out nests before eggs hatch or wash away the young quail before they can escape the rising water. As the nesting season progresses into June and chicks hatch, mild weather remains key for quail. Chicks become susceptible to exposure in elements that are too cold or too wet. In addition, periods of extended drought can adversely affect cover quality and make insects and food less available. Quail require a lot of energy to survive sub-zero temperatures, but as long as enough food is easily accessible, they usually have little trouble withstanding the cold. Learn more HERE.




Winter: The Toughest Season


A 2°F night with even a moderate wind of 11 mph creates a wind chill of -25°F. How can quail survive such conditions? The arrival of cold and snow doesn't necessarily mean a death sentence for quail. In fact, these hardy birds can do remarkably well even in tough winters provided quality winter cover is available. Winter habitat includes grass cover for roosting at night, trees and shrubs to loaf in during the day, and food. With adequate habitat, a quail's body fat content can be at its highest in January. Yet the major cause of quail winter mortality is freezing. Quail essentially need to burn 25 percent more energy to survive during extreme winter conditions. As an example, the temperature inside a high-quality shelterbelt - ideal cover from the cold - can be 5°F warmer. Finally, the same wind that creates biting wind chills can also be a blessing, as it blows many farm fields free of snow and uncovers areas where quail can feed. Learn more HERE.




Indirect Weather Effect


Hot dry summers can impede insect production, depriving chicks of the protein they need early in life. Drought conditions will stunt vegetation growth, reducing the amount of cover on the landscape and leaving birds vulnerable to winter storms. Precipitation is essential but too much or the wrong form at the wrong time can be the difference between a great and poor quail reproduction year. Learn more HERE.




Is There An Answer For Adverse Weather?


Although weather conditions cannot be controlled, providing critical habitat elements (nesting cover, brood rearing cover, winter cover and food plots) when conditions are favorable is essential to helping quail populations rebound after a tough year. Known for their prolific nesting abilities, quail have been documented in some states to double their population in a given year provided seasonal weather is optimal for increased nesting success.
Learn more HERE.





Does Quail Stocking Work?

Quail Stocking: An Ineffective Management Tool


Stocking of pen-raised birds is not an efficient means to increase wild bird populations, as shown by numerous studies over the past 25 years. Developing and enhancing habitat, on the other hand, has proven to help increase quail numbers. Learn more HERE.




What Is Quail Stocking?


By definition, "stocking" is the release of pen-raised quail into habitat where wild birds already are present. "Introductions" or "transplants" are different. These refer to the capture and release of wild birds into areas where birds are not generally present, using management that has been studied very thoroughly. Learn more HERE.




What About Stocking Young Quail?


On average, only 60 percent will survive the initial week of release. After one month, roughly 25 percent will remain. Winter survival has been documented as high as 10 percent but seldom exceeds 5 percent of the released birds. Learn more HERE.




With High Mortality Rates, Shouldn't We Close The Season?


For the most part, hunting has little to do with poor survival. Predators take the real toll on pen-raised quail, accounting for more than 90 percent of all deaths. The reason being pen-raised birds never had a chance to learn predator avoidance behavior. Starvation can also be a problem. Some newly-released quail take up to three weeks to develop optimal foraging patterns essential to survival in the wild. Learn more HERE.




Why Not Wait Until Spring To Release Breeder Hens?


Mortality is still very high—roughly 40 to 70 percent of the hens will perish before attempting to nest. Also, high mortality rates continue even after nests are initiated or eggs successfully hatched, resulting in dismally low production. The average production of spring-released hens ranges from 5 to 40 chicks per 100 hens released. Thus, released hens are not productive enough to replace their own losses. Learn more HERE.




Can't Survival Rates Be Different For Some Areas?


There often will be a few that make it, but studies have shown they are unable to maintain a population. This is why local stocking programs continue year after year. Ultimately we must ask ourselves why there is a need to repeat stocking efforts on an annual basis if survival is as high as often claimed. Learn more HERE.




Isn't Minimal Survival Better Than None At All?


Not necessarily. We're concerned about a self-sustaining population that we won't have to continually supplement with pen-raised birds. In order to remain at a constant level, wild quail populations must have a production rate of roughly four chicks (surviving to 10 weeks) per hen. With production rates of less than one chick per hen, a population would decline rapidly. Learn more HERE.




Is There Harm In Releasing Birds?


Though not proven, there is cause for concern. Genetic dilution may be occurring. Even with minimal survival, the release of thousands of pen-raised birds over many years may be diminishing the "wildness" of the wild stock. Another concern is that, by releasing hundreds of birds in a given area, predators may start keying on quail. This may result in wild birds incurring higher predation. Finally, there is the potential of disease transmission from released birds to the wild flock. Learn more HERE.




What If I Just Want To Put A Few More Birds In The Bag?


Simple enough. Release the birds as close to the time you want to hunt as possible. To do otherwise is a waste of money. Pen-raised birds do provide shooting opportunities and a chance to keep your dog in shape. Just keep in mind that these birds are not going to produce a wild self-sustaining population in your area. Learn more HERE.




Is There Hope For Areas With Low Quail Populations?


Yes. Start by understanding quail habitat needs. What kinds of areas do quail nest in? What are optimal covers in which they survive harsh winters? How can these areas be created and preserved? The answers can be learned from your local wildlife professionals. Consider becoming a member of Quail Forever. Informative and educational articles on these and other subjects are part of every Quail Forever Journal of Quail Conservation. If you are serious about improving local habitat conditions, consider joining or forming a local chapter. Learn more HERE.




With Improved Habitat, Where Will Quail Come From?


Because of their high productivity, wild quail in the area can quickly populate newly-created habitats. In unpopulated areas of suitable habitat, transplanting wild birds or their offspring (F1 generation) appears to be the best solution. The first step should be an investigation of factors that have limited quail populations in the past—for example a lack of winter habitat or increased pesticide use. Learn more HERE.




Can We Realistically Rebuild Wild Quail Numbers?


Yes. During the past 50 years there has been a colossal amount of money spent on supplemental stocking programs by state and local governments, sportsmen's groups, and private individuals. If these dollars would have been invested in habitat restoration, hundreds of species of wildlife in addition to quail would have been benefited. Here's the bottom line: When habitat conditions improve, wild quail populations will increase in response to that habitat. Learn more HERE.