More Bobwhite Quail Habitat Improvement Tips

Now for the hard work – bobwhite quail habitat improvement!  I just realized last week I’m going to need to spend more time on bobwhite quail habitat.  that I’m 5 years into my project to rebuild our wild populations of bobwhite quail and now is time to invest more in quail habitat.  Basically, I’m halfway through my original 10 year estimate.  But, I’ve already met my preliminary goal of taking my dog and finding quail whenever I want to.  I can consistently locate 4-6 coveys on 200 acres – at almost anytime of the year.  So, I’m confident the surrogator works and that the remaining quail reproduce naturally.  Now, the goal is to improve the habitat so that they will stay around and continue to grow in population.  Little did I know that I’d left the hard part – bobwhite quail habitat improvement – until last! Even the experts agree that quail habitat is important.

Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Maintenance

Green Water Tank with White Plastic Connections for Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Repairs
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Repairs
My surrogator is five years old and still holding together nicely.  But, little parts break every year and need to be replaced.  My experience tells me to watch the parts and pieces very carefully.  I had one cycle this year where the pilot light on the heater turned off.  This happened in the first week of a cycle and I lost half my bobwhite quail chicks.  DO YOUR MAINTENANCE!

Get Some Help!

Young Girl in Green Clothes Underneath Green Tree as Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Helper
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Helper
Checking and managing the bobwhite quail chicks during the cycle is pretty easy.  A little looking, scraping and hauling and only takes about 15 minutes.  But, releasing and reloading the surrogator at the end of each cycle needs help.  I prefer to coerce one of my daughters into helping me – free donuts usually works well for this one!  Any, take some help and introduce someone new to bobwhite quail!
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Bobwhite Quail Predator Management

Black & White Image of Bobwhite Quail Predators
Bobwhite Quail Predators
Predators serve a useful and necessary part of the food chain – even when they eat your quail.  All wild populations need to exist in balance and I’m not a fan of eliminating every predator – that would just lead to other problems.  I find that using my game camera as a survey tool to understand how many bobwhite quail predators I have is a very useful approach.  I also run a game camera on our watering spots just as a confirmation.  This fox and his mate have been on the ranch for several years.  I’m SURE he and his lady friend gobble up some of my quail out in the wild.  That’s OK as long as it’s just him and his lady – and I’m pretty sure we only have the pair so I’m not that worried.

Starting Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management

Furrows of Brown Grass Plowed as Quail Habitat Improvement
Quail Habitat Improvement
The biggest challenge I have with bobwhite quail habitat is our invasive, non-native grasses – specifically King Ranch Bluestem.  It was a wonderful and useful crop in the 50s when there were big problems with clear cutting pastures and dust bowls.  We’re smarter now and use native grasses.  But, this KR Bluestem just grows too thick for bobwhite quail to be able to navigate through.  We need bunch grasses and more bare dirt.  KR Bluestem is a beast to remove and there is no good way to remove it.  We are not fans of using fire and we don’t graze our ranch.  That leaves me with either herbicide or mechanical methods.  I’m not ready to apply that much herbicide so I’m experimenting with mechanical methods.  In this plot, I’ve shredded, plowed and disced back as close to bare ground as I can get.  Early results tend to indicate that the native grasses will outcompete invasive grasses if given enough support.

Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management Requires BIG Tools!

Red Tractor and Rusty Disc for Equipment for Bobwhite Quail Habitat Improvement
Equipment for Bobwhite Quail Habitat Improvement
The standard stocking rate for bobwhite quail is approximately 1 per acre at maximum and 1 per 2 acres at normal.  If I’m going to make a dent in the unusable bobwhite quail habitat, it’s going to take some larger equipment.  Even then, I’m going to proceed with experimental plots before investing heavily.  In my case, I got a 55 HP tractor and an old disc for free to help me tear up the invasive grasses and plant food plots.  I didn’t imagine this in the beginning and it’s turning out to be more expensive and laborious than I originally planned.  Nevertheless, I’m now in it for the long haul and willing to do what it takes.

And some Antique Seeds

White Label on Brown Bag of Bobwhite Quail Wild Grain Seeds
Bobwhite Quail Wild Grain Seeds
My model for bobwhite quail habitat resembles what Pheasants Forever has figured out in brood strips.  So, I’m building a giant brood strip in a long draw on our ranch that seems to have the best soil and drainage.  But, I also want to minimize the impact of whatever I do to improve the habitat so I selected an older grain seed that is also drought tolerant and more suited to the poor soil we have on our place.  I selected a grain seed call Hegari.  It was tough to find and cost more to ship it than it cost to buy.

Growing Grain for Bobwhite Quail Management

Planting Green and Brown Hegari for Quail Habitat Improvement
Planting Hegari for Quail Habitat Improvement

My test plots for growing grain to improve the bobwhite quail habitat taught me a lot!  I did have some success in certain areas and the grain heads fully matured.  But, in areas very close to the successful ones, I had dismal failure.  But, now I know what soil and moisture that Hegari prefers and can expand from there next year.  And yes, I’m actually finding bobwhite quail broods in the grain plots!

 

Also Feeds the Damn Deer!

Deer Eat White Seeds on Green Plant Seeds Before Bobwhite Quail
Deer Eat Seeds Before Bobwhite Quail
I start planting the brood strips in early June and I think I was too late.  Only about 50% of the plants developed heads.  Of those that did develop seed heads, almost every one was eaten by deer.  I can’t just kill all the deer on the ranch so I’m going to have to get smarter about grain planting in my brood strip. I’m sure there is a specific combination of timing and density that will lead to an ideal bobwhite quail habitat – and I’ll keep working until I figure it out.

Invasive Grass Control for Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management

White Dog and Brown Grush Pile Result of Controlling Invasive Grass for Bobwhite Quail Habitat
Controlling Invasive Grass for Bobwhite Quail Habitat
We also have way too many cedar trees on the ranch.  I spent most of last summer cutting cedar trees every week and barely made a dent in them.  When I cut them last year, I just left them to lat to se what happened.  Not much it turns out.  But, I did notice that the downed cedar trees killed all the grass underneath them.  So, when it came time to stack the cut cedars this year, I took that as an opportunity to kill some KR Bluestem grass as well.  I located very dense areas of KR Bluestem infestation and then stacked cut cedar tree right on top of those dense patches.  It’s too early to tell if it worked but the early signs indicate that it will knock a dent in them.  My plan is to disc the edges of each giant stack each year and push the drying trees ever inward into the pile so that it get’s smaller and the newly uncovered ground has a chance to restore with native grasses.

Summary of Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management

I’ve more than met my goal to have an abundant population of wild bobwhite quail on our ranch.  I think I can improve the bobwhite quail habitat with small, nominally invasive activities that will remove the non-habitable portions of ranchland and replace it with habitable portions that contain the native grasses that bobwhite quail love in their habitat. It’s going to require more than just loading and unloading a surrogator though – it’s going to require some tractor and chain saw time!

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Quail Habitat Improvement

The 2013 bobwhite quail raising season is over.  I’ve made some great progress with my quail habitat improvements over the Summer.  I’ve also run into numerous issues with quail feeders during the season – time to do some more thinking and experimenting.  The quail hunting is picking up as I’m regularly kicking up 4 to 6 coveys of wild bobwhite quail when hunting on the ranch.  I’m not harvesting them yet but it does my heart good to see the dog point them and then bust them.

Old Ways to Improve Quail Habitat

Antique Brown and Grey Disc on Grey and Brown Trailer
Antique Disc
While we’re fortunate to have a place int e country to enjoy, we aren’t made of money either.  My dad found this antique disc plow and after he cleaned it up it looks like it will work just fine to help us battle the King Ranch Bluestem grass that covers approximately 40% of our pastures.

Old Tools and New Tools

New Hite Tractor and Old Brown and Grey Disc as Quail Habitat Improvement Tools
New and Old Quail Habitat Improvement Tools
Before we had a “real” tractor, we were able to borrow a Bobcat to use as a tractor to see if discing the KR Bluestem would help remove it.  The Bobcat doesn’t have a 3 point hitch so I just drug it around with a chain.  It worked well enough to break through some of the dense KR Bluestem coverage and provide some early indications of wether this strategy of controlling the grass will work.  It was hot, dusty and dirty!
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Discing Thick Grass to Improve Quail Habitat

Killing Bad Brown and Green Grass to Improve Quail Hunting
Killing Bad Grass to Improve Quail Hunting
We have a large open pasture area that is thoroughly infested with KR Bluestem.  This area has the potential to provide excellent quail habitat and quail hunting if we can control the non-native grass.  I drug the disc around about 6 times in each oval attempting to disc it down to bare dirt.  I was successful in some places and not in other – it all depended on how thick the grass was.  Now we’ll let it sit for a couple seasons to see if the native grasses will batlle back against the KR Bluestem re growth.

Digging Ponds to Improve Quail Hunting and Quail Habitat

Digging Black and White Ponds in Green Grass Pasture to Improve Quail Habitat
Digging Ponds to Improve Quail Habitat
Our location doesn’t have any live water on it.  We have suspected for quite some time that we have decent water flowing underneath and we do know that rain runoff flows through in large volumes in several draws.  We hired a bull dozer man to dig 11 test ponds at various locations around the ranch.  This is an example of one pond in a draw area.  This poind probably won’t hold water over and period of time but will stop and collect the run off and allow it to percolate back into the ground instead of running off into the Gulf of Mexico.  Every little bit helps when improving the habitat for quail hunting.

Cool Water for the Quail Hunting Dog

Orange and White Quail Hunting Dog Likes New Ponds filled with Muddy Brown Water
Quail Hunting Dog Likes New Ponds
Five inches of rain had a big impact on the 11 ponds we dug!  Even better, the quail hunting dog really appreciates the various opportunities to jump in and cool off while working the ranch and quail hunting.  We don’t expect this particular pond to hold water over the long run but we won’t know until we give it a try.

Bobwhite Quail at the House

Brown, Black and White Adult Male Bobwhite Quail Checking out New Quail Chicks on Green Surrogator and Grey Brick
Adult Male Bobwhite Quail Checking out New Quail Chicks
I normally don’t run surrogator cycles at my house.  But, this Summer when working in the yeard I heard several bobwhite quail calling from the nearby trees.  So, I ran a last, late cycle at my house behind the workshop since I had to bring the Surrogator home anyway for winterizing.  Low and behold, one of the quail that had been calling from the trees came by to check out the new additions to the neighborhood!  Once I release this batch of bobwhite quail, I’ll begin experimenting with quail feeders again since it is close and easy to monitor and improve.

Rat Snakes and Quail Feeders

Black Brown Rat Snakes Like Silver Quail Feeders
Rat Snakes Like Quail Feeders
Rat Snakes love bobwhite quail and quail feeders!  At least once a year, I’ll find one of these nasties hiding below the quail feeder underneath the bobwhite quail surrogator.  It always gives me a shock and I squeal like a little girl!  They’re hard to kill as well but I now have a long pointy screwdriver in my quail bucket just for when I find one of these guys raiding my quail feeders.

Releasing Wild Bobwhite Quail at the House

Final Brown and White Bobwhite Release of 2013 from Green Surrogator on Green Grass
Final Bobwhite Release of 2013
No matter how many times I do it, I alwasy get a special thrill out of releasing another batch of bobwhite quail from my surrogator.  I’ve run this program for 4 years now at the ranch and consistently bump 4 to 6 coveys of wild quail – including mams with babies so I know they are successfully reproducing.

Quail Hunting Dog 3, Bobwhite Quail 0

Orange and White Quail Hunting Dog Raids the Quail Feeder
Quail Hunting Dog Raids the Quail Feeder
Jill, my quail hunting dog, was really impressed with the bobwhite quail release I did in the back yard.  It usually takes a day or so for the released bobwhite quail to scatter from the surrogator area.  While I did put the surrogator outside the dog fence, I couldn’t stop some of the released quail from coming back into the yard – I guess my yard is pretty good quail habitat.  The dog thought this was magnificent!  The afternoon of the release, she “fetched” two bobwhite quail.  The following morning, there was still game to be had so she brought me another one.  Sure, it’s a loss of a bird but look at that dog – so eager to please!

Summary of Quail Habitat Improvements

I learned a lot this year about raising wild quail.  I’m seeing evidence that all of my hard work over the past 4 years is paying off with wild quail reproducing on the ranch.  Getting the non-native grass under control and building more water collection ponds will be a big step forward in improving the quail habitat.  I did a final surrogator release in my yard at my house and if I continue that, will provide a great laboratory to experiment with quail feeder designs.  Dog likes that idea as well!

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Bobwhite Quail Habitat and Feeders

I’m into the middle of my annual season to raise bobwhite quail for quail hunting.  I’m actively running surrogator batches, improving the  habitat and experimenting with wild quail feeders.  It’s a marvelous adventure that allows me to spend time with my dog and my kids – how could things get any better?

Full Stock Tank for Water Conservation

Silver Sky Reflected in Brown Water Stock Tank Overflowing in Green Grass as Quail Habitat Water Conservation
Quail Habitat Water Conservation
Texas has been in a long term drouth for several years and we’re having a wet Summer.  It’s also cooler this year due to the frequent rainfall.  Water conservation is a big aspect of quail habitat management and something we watch and manage carefully.  Bobwhite quail get their water from metabolism, dew and then surface water – primarily in that order.  The collection and storage of rainfall in stock tanks is very valuable but the challenge in our arid country is finding ground suitable to collect and hold the rainfall.  But, when you do, it is wonderful – to overflowing!

Cutting Trees to Build Improve Quail Habitat

Dead Brown nad Live Green Cedar Trees as part of Building Habitat
Building Quail Habitat
We also actively manage the invasive plant species to improve the quail habitat.  This will also provide easy walking when quail hunting.  Western Cedar or Juniper Ashe trees are highly invasive and will take over cleared pastures within 10-15 years if left untreated.  Juniper trees aren’t actually as thirsty as most people think but they do have a big impact on water conservation.  Here’s why.  The leaf needles of the trees hold up to 1/3 if the rainfall.  The dead leaves underneath the trees hold another 1/3 of the rainfall.  Thus, only 1/3 of the active rainfall actually makes it into the ground – the rest is evaporated.  Clearing large trees is a challenge but I have a tractor with hydraulic shears on the front that will make short work of trees up to 14 inches in diameter.  And, I have to say, it’s a blast chopping those suckers down!
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Small Water Holding Ponds

Small Brown Creek Water Pond in Shady Green Glade for Bobwhite Habitat
Small Water for Bobwhite Quail Habitat
Clearing cedar and other invasive species can have a big impact on getting ground water spring to percolate and flow again.  These small creeks and springs provide an excellent place for quail to brood protected from hawks and other raptors.  Getting your springs flowing again is a great indicator of good quail habitat management.

Fence Brush Management for Bobwhite Quail

Brown Dead Vines and Green Cedar Trees Left After Clearing Fence for Habitat
Clearing Fence for Quail Habitat
Another aspect of quail habitat management is preserving their favorite locations.  If you remember when you were a kid and there WERE quail, you found them on fence rows near a dirt road with grain fields on the side.  Keeping the fences cleared is a normal part of any ranch management but spraying the trees growing on fence lines instead of chopping them down preserves the bobwhite quail habitat and lessens the work without having an impact on the fence itself.  It’s not practical everywhere but where you can take this approach, it will benefit the bobwhite quail.

Steady to Flush!

Orange and White Dog Watching Brown Bobwhite Quail Releasing for Quail Hunting
Releasing for Quail Hunting
My poor dog – she get’s this “steady to flush” training three times every summer when I release my surrogated birds for quail hunting.  I’m not actively hunting and harvesting them yet but we do hunt them and then I use a starter pistol instead of a real shotgun.  Yes, it’s a bit disappointing for the dog but leaves more to breed and hunt in the future.

Training Feeder

White PVC Tuve on Brown Plywood in Black Net Cage as Quail Feeder Training
Quail Feeder Training
I’ve had some success with wild quail feeders.  Most of the success has been supplementing the quail just after release from the surrogator.  To increase my success, I start training the quail by using a smaller quail feeder inside the surrogator during the first 5 weeks so they are familiar with the sight and use of the quail feeder.  I’m not sure it is a huge benefit but I’ve sen more quail at the quail feeders since I started doing it and it is such a simple thing to do.  I’m learning that it is seldom one thing but a combination of several things that leads to success raising wild quail successfully.

Sharing a Bobwhite Quail Feeder

Whitetail Deer and Brown Bobwhite Quail Sharing Feeders
Sharing Quail Feeders
My post release quail feeder attracts a lot of attention and for the most part, I’m happy to share until you become a pest.  The deer like to snoop around and feed on the tailings and the bobwhite don’t mind them either.

Feeder Raiders!

White PVC Tube Homemade Feeder with Coons
Homemade Quail Feeder
Coons, on the other hand, have become my quail feeder nemesis – especially when it becomes a “family affair”.  These little critters not only feed, they raid and empty the feeder by shaking out too much feed.  I’ve tried numerous approaches to keeping them away – none successful yet.  But, I keep experimenting and will find the solution.

Electrified Feeder

White Plastic Bucket with Yellow Standoffs for a Feeder
Range Feeder for Quail
My highly electrified long term quail feeder was somewhat successful.  It did attract wild quail and they did feed but it had some problems with leakage and moisture.  I’m taking a different approach now as I found that while this quail feeder was effective, it wasn’t efficient to manage and use over the long term. That said, this has proven to be a good location to start quail hunting due to the prevalence of food.

Summary of Bobwhite Quail Habitat and Feeders

Management of quail habitat for bobwhite quail is tough work and requires sustained efforts.  Quail surrogators work well to produce six week old bobwhite quail but they will only stay, survive and thrive if the quail habitat is sufficient and better than that available nearby.  Quail feeders work but need to be designed and implemented with a specific purpose.  Additionally, other wildlife will visit quail feeders and need to be managed appropriately

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