Did you know that the Georgia State Gamebird is the Northern bobwhite quail? Historically, our state was known as an excellent quail-hunting destination due to the large amount of quail habitat we had. Since the 1960’s, Georgia has seen significant decline in quail populations and the number of quail hunters, primarily due to the loss of early successional habitat. In the 1990’s, the Bobwhite Quail Initiative was founded by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources to direct efforts of habitat restoration for this beloved species. This week, I’d like to highlight some of the key components of bobwhite quail habitat and things we can do as landowners to improve the quality and quantity of habitat available.

            Bobwhite quail are called “specialists” for the early successional habitat. In other words, they absolutely have to have this habitat in order to reproduce and survive. This type of habitat is comprised of a third of annual and perennial weeds, a third clumped native warm season grasses, and a third brush cover of briar and shrub thickets. In a lot of Georgia, the existing habitat is entire too dense or too sparse at ground level to meet the nesting cover, brood range, and food availability needs of bobwhites.

            Quail are ground-nesting birds, using last year’s dead vegetation to construct their nest. Ideally, nesting cover needs to be arranged in open clumps (think broomsedge and warm-season clumping grasses) that allow free movement of both adults and chicks. One challenge is that these grasses can become too thick, which prohibits quail nesting. Ideally, winter disking or a controlled burn can help maintain the correct level of clumping grasses for nesting cover.

            The second important consideration is brood rearing. Ideal habitat for raising chicks consists of weeds that are open at ground level but open into canopies- think ragweed, beggarweed, and partridge pea. The canopy effect provides cover to young birds while the openness at the ground provides access to critical food sources and easier movement of chicks and adults. Similarly to our warm-season grasses, winter disking or controlling unwanted trees can be critical for maintaining an appropriate balance of erect weeds.

            Finally, year-long food is essential for growing quail populations. Generally, bobwhites consume 60-65% seeds, 15-20% fruits, 15% animal matter, and 5% vegetation. Young birds eat almost exclusively insects. The lack of winter food is often a limiting factor for quail. Winter food sources are often seeds of annual or perennial plants such as the ones mentioned above and also wild beans, native lespedeza, sumac, oak, and pine.

            One last consideration is the availability of cover for bobwhite quail. Upright shrubs are essential for providing screening cover and areas for loafing between feeding times. Cover allows birds to escape from predators, reduce their temperature, and can help encourage quail to stay on a property though winter. Cover, like the other vegetation discussed above, do need to be maintained with mechanical means or fire to ensure they don’t overrun the habitat.

            More information on quail habitat can be found in the Northern Bobwhite Quail Management in Georgia publication available here (http://tinyurl.com/yfypespb). If you have further questions, contact us at uge3181@uga.edu or 706-359-3233. 

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