Species-Specific Management (SSM)

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Va Game Comm 1954 booklet

Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) are considered the small game bird of the South. It is valued in Virginia as a game species, as well as a species of great beauty and value in nature study. See other comments. Populations are low in forested areas.

Bobwhite quail require 4 vegetative types (woodland, brushland, grassland, and cultivated land) which need to meet at a focal point. Quail use linear edge where more than 2 types of cover come together. Twenty five percent of the entire area should be small fields. The area needs to provide food as well as cover (feeding, escape, winter, nesting, and winter roosting). A healthy quail population reaches a density of 1/acre (5/2 hectares), but with intensive management it can be several times this amount.

The following are management recommendations.

  1. Do not restock with non-native or pen-raised stock.
  2. Attempt to provide and encourage the food types eaten by quail ... in the time of year when they are eaten:
  3. Representative insects eaten by both adults and poults are ground beetles, leaf hoppers, stink bugs, and grasshoppers. To increase insect populations, set back cleared fields to early successional stages by burning or disking. Provide a cool burn in winter after the late frosts but before quail food begins sprouting. Disk fields in winter or early spring.
  4. Protect all quail habitat from grazing.
  5. Allow oak stands to mature to mast-producing age (at least 40 years, but preferably to 80 years).
  6. To stimulate grass and sedge growth (ragweed, doveweeds, panic grass, sunflower, and morning glory), plow cleared strips 10-75 feet (3-23 meters) wide between forested areas. The strips should receive maximum morning sun and minimum shade. When plowing, follow the contours of the land. Plow no deeper than 8 inches (20 centimeters). Plow in January and February and rotate plowing of adjacent plots every 2-3 years.
  7. Plant food in cleared long, linear plots proximal to adequate escape cover. Plots should be 0.25-2 acres (0.1-0.8 hectares), and should be spaced 0.5 miles (1.6 kilometers) from one another. Depending on soil type and condition, plow and fertilize as needed. Plant mixtures of wheat, sorghum, corn, partridge peas, blackberry, rattan, soybeans, myrtle, lespedeza, multifora rose, and millets, whatever grows best in the area. Plant sorghum and corn on 0.25-1 acre (0.1-0.4 hectare) plots and lespedezas on 0.125- 0.625 acre (0.05-0.25 hectare) plots.
  8. Plant rows of autumn olive down the middle of food clearings with minimum shade approximately 10 feet (3 meters) apart. Be prepared to control the plant if it becomes a weed.
  9. If agricultural lands are in your area, promote primitive farming with weedy fields, brushy fencerows, and odd corners. Leave some crops (corn, soybeans, sorghum, and wheat) unharvested for winter forage.
  10. Near feeding areas, provide escape cover with brush piles, tangled thickets, or fallen trees. Construct brushpiles in ditches and gullies near feeding areas where cover is inadequate. Build them 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and 10-12 feet (3-3.7 meters) in diameter for escape cover and 6-7 feet (1.8-2.1 meters) high and 15-30 feet (4.5-9.1 meters) in diameter for headquarter coverts.
    Here are 2 methods for building brush piles:
    1. Place 2-4 layers of logs (6 inches (15 centimeters) in diameter or greater) at right angles to one another 4-6 inches (10-15 centimeters) apart.
    2. Place the butt ends of 4 trees together to form a circle. Cover the base with brush clippings from the ground up to form a tee-pee or mound shape. Leave 6 inches (15 centimeters) clear area at several points along the base to admit quail. Loosen the brush piles once a year. Replenish them every 2 - 3 years.
  11. Along gullies, ponds, and streams, provide shrubs, wildgrape, greenbrier, and honeysuckle thickets for cover.
  12. Partially saw saplings of oak that retain leaves well into winter and push them over, being sure to leave as much sapwood attached to the trunks as possible, trying not to kill them. Cut trees with a diameter no greater than 6 inches (15 centimeters) and cut in groups or lines of 6 saplings. Cut in winter when the ground is moist. Let vines (grapes, smilax, and woodbine) grow over the saplings.
  13. To reduce fire susceptibility, plow or harrow around the quail area and burn before the harvest in areas with heavy broomsedge or grass growth.
  14. Plant cleared areas near forested edge, brushpiles, or thickets with broomsedge, bluegrass, brambles, and panic grass to provide nesting cover and materials.
  15. Mowing strips in fallow fields is a good technique for changing vegetation, changing insects, modifying animal behavior, reducing energy losses to quail and rabbits, and making hunting more enjoyable (partially as a result of being able to see dogs work better). I would like to experimentally try to lay down next to hunter access paths strips of weedy growth. Not mowed, these merely lay down vegetation (dragged chain or heavy timber) and the resulting low tangles are likely to increase hunters' take of quail and rabbits (a take that is rarely sufficient).
  16. In large forested areas, have cool ground fires on 1/3 of the tract every winter to stimulate the growth of food and cover vegetation.
  17. In forested areas with abundant cover, clear and thin small areas to promote new vegetation. When thinning, leave gum, mulberry, sumac, wild plum, blackgum, and beech.
  18. Rotate cutting of forested areas in blocks or strips so that no more than 1/4 of the entire area is logged every 10-12 years.
  19. In feeding areas, put out Vitamin A pellets to increase reproductive rates.
  20. Provide singing-male posts, at least 2 per acre.
  21. Control predation of nest predators (feral cats and dogs, striped skunk, opossum, fox, raccoon, Cooper's hawk, and sharp-shinned hawk) by trapping or shooting. Check the law on birds of prey for it is illegal to take these birds. Special permission may be obtainable. If buffer species are present, predation on quail is likely to be low.
  22. Scare off competing migrating waterfowl and blackbirds.
  23. Avoid insecticide use within the quail range.
  24. Control hunting harvests.
  25. Make, record, and compare regular counts to assess whether improvements are being made in the population or its use.
  26. Encourage hunters or visitors to observe your successes.
  27. Support research and studies directed to answer specific questions which may result in action on the land.

Major landuse changes are occurring, not only in the crops used, the fencerows reduced, the field sizes increased, and the weeds (and thus weed seeds) in crops controlled with herbicides. Quail are very much a function of national and regional argicultural and economic policy. It is likely that quail numbers are decreasing at the same rate that quail habitat is being lost.

A contribution of Amy Plummer (1992), Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0321

In 1999 an important thesis on quail and landuse change in eastern Virginia was prepared by Garrett Schairer. Landsat and other large scale analyses were completed. The thesis may be accessed at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-051599-164303/

Additional information and ideas on quail are available.

Another site is within The Trevey.

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Last revision January 17, 2000.