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Frequently Asked Questions:Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)
Q: What is the most limiting factor for improvement of wild quail populations?
A:  The lack of sufficient types of habitat for the entire life cycle of a quail.  All of the following habitat types must be present within relative close proximity for quail to prosper:  nesting, brood-rearing, loafing, feeding, escape, and heavy winter cover.  Some plant communities may serve mulitple functions depending on their size and disturbance history.

Q: Which predators have the greatest impact on quail populations?
A: This is a great question with multiple answers.  Quail are prey species, with a diverse list of predators that target them.  Mostly, it depends on the age or step in the life cycle.  Rambling and roaming predators (opossums, raccoons, skunks, snakes, and even rats) have the highest impact on eggs laid in the nest.  These types of predators typically "clean house", leaving only shells in their wake.  Chicks between 1 and 4 weeks of age are very mobile on the ground, yet cannot fly, which makes them targets for faster ground predators (foxes, bobcats, snakes, and weasels).  Since they scatter, these ground predators are rarely able to catch all the chicks.  Once a quail can fly, ground predation becomes very tough and the major predators are avian raptors (falcons and hawks).  The two most important species in this group are the sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper's hawk.  Both of these hawks are accipiters, a group that specializes in catching birds while in flight.

Q: Do quail eat seeds or insects?
A:  Another good question!  The answer is that quail eat both.  Insects are a very important part of their diet, especially in the summer.  Chicks need the high amounts of proteins found in insects for proper growth and nutrition (ants, grasshoppers, ticks, small beetles, thrips, etc).  Adult birds have a very diverse diet and will also eat fruits (blackberries, drupes, persimmons, etc).  As fall approaches, insects and fruits become scarce and the birds will transition to wild seeds, crops, and hard mast during the winter (ragweed, grasses, corn, milo, beechnuts, acorns, etc).  Small, hard legume seeds (partridge pea, lespedeza, clover) are often available year round, thus making them extremely important as food source.

Q: Why isn't more being done to help the bobwhite quail?
A:  It took more than 30 years of land-use changes before the "quail problem" was noticed.  So, to correct those differences, it is going to take some time and alot of education.  In addition, most changes were so widespread that it affected enormous portions of the southeast.  Improvements have to happen on a landscape level for major population shifts, which is very difficult as most land is privately owned and managed for objectives other than wildlife.  For example, tall fescue was present on less than 10% of all southern pastures in 1940.  Today, tall fescue occupies over 90% of all pasture and hayfields in the southeast, making nearly all this acreage marginal or poor habitat for quail.

Q: What other questions do you have?
A: Please use email or the contact form to submit additional questions.  We will publish the answers right here!

Copyright Wildland Forestry & Environmental, Inc.  Updated August 2012