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The northern bobwhite was dubbed "Prince of the Game Birds" by Charles Elliot in his book of the same title. It's a fitting title, seldom disputed by bird watchers and hunters alike. However, because of habitat loss, the once vast bobwhite quail kingdom has been reduced to remnant fields, cutover woodlands and abandoned homesites in rural Arkansas. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has joined with many local, regional and national partners to restore habitat for this important game species.
View the AGFC Strategic Quail Management Plan
These plump little ground-nesting birds display plumage that is a lesson in camouflage. Brown, black and white feathers intermingle into intricate patterns that can make the birds almost invisible at rest. Adult bobwhites average 10 inches tall. Males have a distinctly white throat patch and eyebrow-like band stretching to the back of the head. These markings are a golden-brown in female bobwhites. Often, the first indication that a bobwhite is present is when a group of them suddenly take flight, flushing at once with a tremendous sound of wingbeats.
Bobwhites prefer a combination of open woods, thickets and native grasses and weeds that create an understory of sparse ankle- to waist-high vegetation. This allows food, shelter from the elements and cover from predators, while retaining the quails ability to fly away quickly in case of danger.
Bobwhites rarely range more than a quarter mile in suitable habitat. They require little space to survive, and feeding ranges of groups may overlap. They eat a variety of seeds and insects, depending on the quail's age and the season. During spring, insects are the bobwhite's primary food source. Throughout summer and fall, berries, seeds and insects make up the bobwhite's diet. By winter, insects are gone, and grass seeds and small acorns take over the quail's diet.
Quail Conservation Calendar
Burn native warm-season grass fields to set back the grass and encourage annual weeds. Don’t delay - order your shrubs (shrub dogwood, wild plum, blackberry) this month. Drop honeylocust and hedge trees in fencelines for quail escape cover. Don’t forget to spray the stumps.
Stop wasting money on inputs on low-yield cropfield edges. Visit your local FSA office and enroll these areas in CRP practice CP33. Burn your CRP acres this month to reduce grass competition and increase wildflower abundance. Dormant seed native warm-season grass and pollinator plots.
Interseed wildflowers/legumes in conjunction with your CRP management practices. Cost share is available from USDA. Broadcast annual lespedeza over recently burned areas and firelines. Create important cover by dropping large trees along fencerows and leave them where they fall. Finish burning your native warm-season grass acres this month. For quail, DO NOT burn rank stands of native grass after March 15.
Conduct prescribed burns on cool-season grass fields (fescue) to reduce the density of grass composition.
Do not conduct prescribed burns on native warm-season grass fields after March because grass is stimulated with burns conducted during this time of year. Quail cannot maneuver through and find adequate food in stands of dense grass. Prepare areas that are to be planted in spring food plots by taking soil samples and applying fertilizer and lime according to soil test results. After nutrients are applied, disk area to incorporate materials into soil. If planning to convert pastures to native warm-season grass, April is a good time to spray fescue and other non-native grasses to prepare site for planting. Coveys break up and male bobwhites begin to call.
Conduct breeding bird counts each year to gauge relative abundance of quail on your property. Male bobwhites ramp up calling during May and June. Avoid mowing fields during this time of year, as quail are sitting on nests. Average nest success is only about 33 percent. Plant native warm-season grasses, such as big bluestem, Indiangrass and little bluestem, from now until June to create nesting cover. Contact your local private land biologist to learn about these grasses and how to properly plant them. Plant warm-season food plots composed of grain sorghum, corn, millet, buckwheat or sunflowers to supplement native forage. Recently planted native grass/wildflower plantings will need to be mowed to a height of 4-6 inches to reduce competition on planted species.
Quail begin to hatch during June and continue until October. Weedy areas with 30 percent or more bare ground are critical during this time of year. Insects comprise 85 percent of a quail chick's diet and are attracted to weeds, such as ragweed. Bare ground is essential because it allows small chicks to move around and forage under the canopy of weeds. Disking from November through February will stimulate weedy species such as partridge pea and ragweed that create excellent brood-rearing habitat the following spring.
National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has partnered with NBCI to help restore quail habitat and quail populations in The Natural State. NBCI is the unified strategic effort of 25 state fish and wildlife agencies and various conservation organizations to restore wild populations of bobwhite to levels comparable to 1980. Visit the NBCI web page at www.bringbackbobwhites.org.
With more than 85 percent of Arkansas's landmass being in private ownership, participation and interest in quail management programs by private landowners is essential to the successful revitalization of quail populations in Arkansas. The following links offer many resources for landowners to discover the needs of quail and how they can help bring back this storied game bird to vibrant levels once again.