NC State Extension Publications

Habitat Requirements

Bobwhite quail (Northern bobwhite) is a popular game bird. Good habitat requires an interspersion or mixture of woodlands, brush, grass, and croplands. Quail are social birds that gather in groups called "coveys.” As many as 10 to 30 birds may form a covey in which they forage and roost closely together.

An open overstory is the most important component of quail habitat. An abundance of quail can be found in areas of early successional stages such as those recently tilled, burned, or cut over. After such disturbance, quail may remain for 3 or 4 years. However, if ground litter and understory become too thick to easily find food and move around, quail may relocate to another area of early succession.

Food

Quail are primarily seed eaters, although their diet covers a wide range of plant and animal matter. Small hard mast, weed seeds, tender leaves, fleshy fruits, bugs, insects, and snails are the primary foods consumed throughout the year.


Common quail foods.
Plants
Lespedeza Begarweed
Acorns Partirdge Pea
Cowpea Ragweed
Milkpea Paspalum
Soybean Dogwood
Longleaf pine Loblolly pine
Corn
Insects
Beetles Grasshopper
Crickets Caterpillars
Spiders

Cover

A combination of woodlands, brush, grass, and croplands is necessary for quail habitat. Foraging and nesting ranges require different vegetative cover.

Foraging range must have open areas of little cover. Quail forage by searching the ground for seeds, fruits, and animal matter. Areas having thick ground litter or dense vegetation will be abandoned by quail.

Nesting range must have low shrubs, tall grass, brush, or any kind of cover in which to hide. Fencerows, streambanks, and transitions between woodlands and open fields are the most common nesting places. After courtship in the spring, a pair of quail builds a nest by scratching a depression in the soil. The nest is lined with dead grass and concealed by weeds and tall grass.

Water

Surface water is not essential. Quail get moisture from dew drops, rain, snow, succulent leaves, fleshy fruits, and insects.

Home Range

In good habitat, the home range of quail is about 40 acres per covey. Over 75 percent of adult quail have a lifetime range of 12 mile or less.

Quail Habitat Improvement Tips

General

  • Manage small areas of grass, brush, shrub, and woodlands in close proximity to one another
  • Thin pine stands frequently
  • Favor wide tree spacing allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor

Regeneration

  • Make regeneration cuts in irregular shapes to maximize edge
  • Favor Longleaf Pine over other pines
  • Allow small hardwood patches to grow within pine types
  • Favor hardwood species that produce small, hard mast

Intermediate Treatments

  • Keep pine stands as open as possible by thinning and burning
  • Favor berry and seed producing species along stream bottoms

Prescribed Burning

  • Frequently burn to renew herbaceous vegetation
  • Use burns to maintain natural openings
  • Do not burn mast producing areas
  • Limit burns to winter months

Direct Improvements

  • Construct large, loose brush piles or plant shrubs in areas lacking cover
  • Establish permanent clearings near brushlands and woodlands (not grazing land)
  • Plant annual and perennial food in openings
  • Leave small areas of grain unharvested in croplands

Authors

Associate Director and State Program Leader, ANR and CRD
ANR/CRD
Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Graduate Research Assistant
Forestry & Environmental Resources

Publication date: Jan. 1, 1994

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