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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Pre Season Raising Quail Warmup

The season for raising wild quail is just around the corner – baby chicks are usually available around mid May.  So, it’s time to get everything inspected, repaired and ready!  Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit to do to get everything ready to go for a successful season.

Rainwater Collectors and Quail

Blue and Silver Rainwater Collector for Raising Quail
Rainwater Collector for Raising Quail

Bobwhite quail don’t have a huge need for ground water.  They fulfill most of their water needs from either dew or metabolic water.  That said, the Texas Summers can be very hot and dry and providing a little water may mean the difference between life and death.  Also, a watering location provides an excellent location for a game camera to keep tabs on the wild quail population as well as their predators.

 

 

 

 

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Forbs Feed Quail

Green Forbs Feed Bobwhite Quail
Forbs Feed Bobwhite Quail

Forbs and their seeds are the primary feed for wild quail.  Forbs are essentially wild flowers and can be very abundant in Texas.  It all depends on the amout of rainfall – it doesn’t take much rainfall to get them to sprout and bloom but it does take some.  During the early Spring months, we monitor the forbs production and then make plans from there on how and if we will feed additionally in the quail feeders.

 

 

 

 

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Controlling Invasive Plants for Quail

Quail Habitat Manipulation of Brown Natural Grasses
Quail Habitat Manipulation

Non native grasses, like King Ranch Bluestem are hell on quail.  The KR Bluestem is so dense and compact that the quail can’t get around in it.  Additionally, KR Bluestem does a terrible job at producing seeds AND seems almost impossible to eliminate once it has started.  This is a picture of a small tract where we disced heavily several years ago.  The KR Bluestem has grown back in most areas except where we disced down to bare earth.  In those areas, we are seeing emergence of native grasses.  I plan to continue my experiments with the destruction of our KR Bluestem this year.

 

 

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Quail Feeders and Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail
Bobwhite Quail Pipe Feeder

I’ve built and used several different types of quail feeders over the years.  I’ve come to understand that they don’t do much except to support the wild quail during their first week after their release.  WE’ve been fortunate that most years have produced a decent crop of forbs so the bobwhite quail have sufficient feed available to the without the need for supplemental feeding.  We are currently in the middle of a 10 year drought so we’re watching carefully and are prepared to supplement the feed if needed.

 

 

 

 

Custom Quail Feeders

White Plastic Quail Bucket Feeder
Bobwhite Quail Bucket Feeder

This type of electrified bucket worked OK – it sure kept the critters off!  In the end, it wasn’t as durable as I wanted and I’ve discontinued using this design.  Honestly, I think a regular broadcast deer feeder works the best but you do have to contend with everything else in the area that likes what comes out of a deer feeder.

 

 

 

 

Quail Predators

Black and White Night Picture of Bobcat Predator
Bobcat Predator on Bobwhite Quail

Predator control is one aspect of rebuilding a wild population of bobwhite quail.  We don’t have a lot of predators but we do have some.  It’s been said that a bobcat can wreak havoc on a covey of quail by destroying all of them and only eating a few.  I’m a big fan of game cameras to monitor the wildlife population and then formulate actions based on what I see.  However, I am loath to kill every predator out there as I do believe that this upsets that balance of nature and I’ll only end up paying the price at some later date with some larger problem.

 

 

 

 

Raptors and Quail

Predator of Brown and White Hawk
Bobwhite Quail Predator

Raptors are another bobwhite quail predator and this is an interesting picture of one coming down to peer into the surrogator.  We do have several pairs of hawks on the ranch but we also have magnificent habitat in the areas where quail are being found.  So, I’m not horribly worried about the raptors taking out my quail and have been pleased with the balance.

 

 

 

 

Surrogator Repair and Maintenance

Surrogator Repairs of Black Paint and Rusted Metal
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Repairs

Early Spring is always the time for surrogator repairs and they always need a little love and attention.  The surrogator is incredibly well built and sturdy and the repairs each year are mostly clean up and preventative maintenance.  Nothing a little buffing and painting can’t easily take care of.  I’ve been very pleased with my surrogator and hope it continues to last for many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reason I Raise Wild Quail

Releasing Bobwhite Quail from Surrogator while Orange and White Brittany Watches
Releasing Bobwhite Quail from Surrogator

Lastly, the reason I got started doing all of this several years ago.  I bought a hunting dog and then almost ruined her on pen raised quail.  Now, she get’s exposed to hyper training at least 3 times each Summer.  I have her sit at the end of the surrogator during the quail release and she doesn’t move.  She get’s very excited and I do turn her loose to hunt them afterward but this is an excellent training regime for steadiness.

 

 

 

 

Very Steady Hunting Dog

Well Trained Orange and White Brittany Hunting Dog
Well Trained Quail Hunting Dog

Yet another shot of Jill waiting patiently while the wild quail become even wilder.  She’s just turned 4 years old and is quite steady on command.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Pre Season Raising Quail Warmup

Spring is here and it’s time to get ready for another season of raising wild quail.  The list of things to do and check get’s longer every year as I implement more practices to improve the habitat.  This will be my 4th year of raising wild quail and I’m very much looking forward to it – Jill is too!

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