So You Want Bobwhite Quail?

William N. Grafton
Wildlife Specialist
WVU Extension Service
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Bobwhite quail were fairly common in West Virginia until the 1970s. By that time, grassland farming had replaced cultivated crops, many fencerows had disappeared, and the forests were becoming mature. The "straw that broke the camel's back" was the extremely cold winters of the late 1970s. Quail froze or starved during these winters, with only a few holding on in the Ohio Valley, the Eastern Panhandle, and the Greenbrier and Monroe county areas.

Quail need a mixture of woodlands, brush, grass, and cultivated lands to maintain healthy populations. West Virginia and Ohio wildlife managers use a 40-acre area as general rule of thumb for providing quail habitat. The "40" should include at least 10 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, lespedeza, or other quail foods. It also should have three to five acres of woody cover, or three separate quarter-acre woody thickets connected to the feeding area by travel lanes of brushy fencerows, and a few acres of good nesting cover-grasses and forbs intermixed with scattered low shrubs and small trees.

Bobwhite quail can be managed easily. Simply provide the bird's three basic requirements—food, loafing and escape cover, and nesting cover—within its daily home range of 1/8 to mile.

To provide food for quail:

  • Leave weeds in the outside row or two of cultivated crops by not treating with herbicides. Such weeds as ragweed, beggar-ticks, smartweeds, dock, crabgrass, and foxtail grasses provide excellent seeds for quail food. Also leave a row or two of the grain unharvested.
  • Plant Korean lespedeza in small areas too rough to farm.
  • Selectively manage fencerows, odd areas, and woods borders to favor food-producing shrubs and small trees.

Provide nesting cover for quail in the following ways:

  • Delay mowing of fencerows and roadsides until after August 1.
  • Maintain at least one shrubby-grassy fencerow along each crop field.

Once food and cover are adequate, it still may be necessary to release pen-raised birds to get bobwhite quail established. West Virginia’s landscape has changed so much over the past 30 years that quail will be difficult to reestablish even in the heavily farmed counties.