|Quail Need Wild, Weedy, Woolly Areas|
The call of the bobwhite quail is heard during spring and summer months, and is often associated with wild areas. The habitat community bobwhite quail are dependent upon for their existence is quickly disappearing. Early successional habitats, those dominated by grasses, weeds and shrubs, are essential for quail to thrive.
The loss and conversion of early successional habitat has resulted in an 80 percent decline in quail numbers since the 1960s. At one time quail were just a product of local land uses. Small agricultural farms, fallow fields, grown up fence rows and mature open woods maintained by frequent fire provided optimal habitat for bobwhites. Over the years, many row crop areas were replaced with improved pastures, converted to timber or developed by growing populations. Mature open canopy timber stands were harvested and replaced with younger thicker stands and fire was often being excluded from pine stands.
Improved pasture grasses are too thick at ground level and provide no overhead cover beneficial to quail. Row crops converted to planted trees quickly shade out the ground, which decreases or even eliminates beneficial quail vegetation. Reducing the frequency of prescribed burns or even the exclusion of fire from the landscape has had many negative effects on quail habitat by allowing more woody vegetation to thrive. Also, we all know too well what paving over habitat does to wildlife species. There is, however, a silver lining. Quail habitat can be improved or created.
Early successional habitat maintenance requires two things: ample sunlight to produce beneficial weeds, grasses and shrubs, and some type of disturbance like burning or disking. "Organized chaos" is a good way to describe good quail management. Keeping areas in varying stages of vegetation succession is the key.
Rotational disking of one-third of the weedy, grassy areas throughout the property each year maintains desired vegetation. This may be accomplished by disking in strips or blocks depending on the size of the unit. A burning rotation in open timberland or fallow fields every two years usually provides the diverse habitat necessary for bobwhites. A combination of both burning and disking provides optimal habitat. The key is to maintain weedy and wooly areas—the "woollier" the better. However, if these areas are not maintained by some type of disturbance, they will quickly revert to unsuitable habitats dominated by a woody component.
Many landowners actually have beneficial quail habitat present. To some, these weedy areas of ragweed, broomsedge and/or briar thickets are an eyesore and are regularly mowed. While mowing and keeping areas manicured is attractive to most people, little benefit is found by quail since they thrive in weedy habitats. Mowing is probably the management practice most overused by landowners. Not only does mowing destroy beneficial vegetation, but when performed during the nesting season, it can destroy quail nests.
Managing for weedy areas can be a difficult adjustment. We generally want our yards and roadways manicured, so it stands to reason we use these values when managing other landscapes. Early successional habitats must be maximized to sustain bobwhite populations. If land managers will remember three words for quail management—wild, weedy and wooly—the call of the bobwhite quail might indeed be music to your ears.
Landowners are encouraged to seek assistance as they manage for wildlife. Wildlife biologists are available through any of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District Offices to answer questions, provide literature or to make on-site visits with landowners. Additional information may also be found at www.outdooralabama.com.
Jim Schrenkel is a Certified Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.