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!