Quail Project Habitat Tips


Quail are holding strong in many areas and landowners, QF chapters, and wildlife agencies are behind the success.  

By Scott James
If you’re a farmer, recreational landowner, private land manager, or sportsman, you can help too. Don’t feel apprehensive, either. Creating or managing wildlife habitat on private land is made easier with technical and financial assistance. The following guide provides a broad, technical overview to point you in the right direction to help you help wildlife on private land without breaking the bank.
Contact your local office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state fish and wildlife agencies, Quail Forever Farm Bill biologists or U.S. Fish & Wildlife ServiceThen seek financial assistance from the aforementioned groups' including Quail Forever chapters in your area. Here are a few pieces of technical advice for quail habitat that you may hear: 
  • Establish stands of wildflowers to attract insects chicks need; establish grasses for nesting cover; shelterbelts for winter cover.
  • Conduct prescribed burning or disking in the late summer or early fall for grassland stand management and to encourage early successional habitat.
  • Establish covey headquarters consisting of shrubs, loosely piled fallen trees, or trees cut and felled along a wooded edge. 

Program Options for Financial Assistance

  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)USDA-Farm Service Agency program with 10-15 year. contracts in which landowners convert cropland (and some areas of grassland) to habitat.
  • Partners for Fish & Wildlife (PFW)U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service program to improve fish and wildlife habitat on private land with project costs shared between USFWS, other agencies and landowners.
  • Local Quail Forever chapter and national office grants: Various grants and financial assistance opportunities for habitat projects.
When your wildlife habitat project is done, encourage other landowners and sportsmen in your area to do the same. Their habitat projects will increase your wildlife resources and vice versa. Encourage others to join the chapter or help them with wildlife management on their property. Try to schedule new people to call a local QF Farm Bill biologist to get a landowner visit and to see the potential their property has for improving wildlife habitat.

Will Private Land Habitat Work Really Pay Off? 

When folks have a clear idea of habitat needs and a plan, habitat and quail thrive. Here’s one recent quail success story: 
For the past 10 years, Southeast Missouri has been establishing and managing quail habitat through various partnerships. In 2005, NRCS and FSA saw an opportunity to work with landowners to help quail through the CSP and CRP programs. Annual payments made it financially viable, sometimes lucrative, for farmers. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) offered additional technical assistance on habitat establishment and management for the programs. This made program implementation easy. Farmers understood the benefit to natural resources the partnership offered. By 2007, farmers had established 17,850 acres of habitat across six counties. Scott County was the first county to meet the goals of the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. 
“We never saw quail until a couple years after CSP, when they started popping out of the ground,” stated a Scott County farmer. Turkey harvest skyrocketed at the same time ,and numbers have been more stable than other parts of the state. Since the 2005 boom, all agencies continued to offer assistance as thousands more acres were enrolled into habitat programs, including a newer MDC program for idle land. 
Even better, conservationists formed a Quail Forever chapter in 2011, which has held fundraising banquets, youth events and habitat days to help quail further. Landowner interest in the QF chapter has been strong. Seventeen of twenty-four recent banquet sponsors were farmers, landowners or ag-industry businesses. Landowners work closely with the Quail Forever Farm Bill biologists. The last two years, more quail have been observed in habitat areas during annual bird surveys. It goes without saying that creating private land habitat pays off.

There’s Room for Wildlife Habitat on Every Farm or Ranch

Establishing and maintaining quail is not easy, especially if it’s not your property, but together we can make a difference. I’ve heard dozens of stories from landowners across the Midwest about seeing quail for the first time in years. If every landowner leaves a little bit of wildlife habitat for the birds or if every reader today does something small (or preferably big) to impact private land, the difference across quail country will be significant. 

James is a Quail Forever Farm Bill biologist serving northwest Illinois.