Providing good quail habitat and dove habitat is straight forward: maintain cover and promote seed-producing food plants. Much of the Great Plains in the central portion of the US have been lost due to agriculture, whether it be farming or ranching. Neither of these activities is detrimental to Mourning doves or Bobwhite quail in and of themselves, but when most properties in a given area are intensely managed for ag production the impact can be overwhelmingly negative for upland game birds as well as other wildlife. Wildlife management for improved dove and quail habitat on individual properties can, however, be one of the best ways to boost bird numbers in addition to recreational hunting.
Quail Habitat: Native Bunchgrasses
Quail and doves are both species that do well in areas that are dominated by grasslands, although each species needs a certain amount of woody plants. Quail do well in habitat that is comprised of 5-20 percent of woody cover with ample warm season bunchgrasses and a variety of seed-producing forbs. Doves do well in similar habitat, although their range will be larger so habitat on any particular property is less important to them. That said, dove and quail management activities on any single property can influence whether or not either of these birds, as well as other wildlife species, use a particular property.
Native warm season bunchgrasses are great for doves and quail, but they are often absent on the landscape because of land use or misuse. Cultivated lands will be devoid of diversity and rangelands that have been overgrazed by livestock means bunchgrasses are long gone. Landowners interested in dove and quail habitat must now re-establish these all-important bunchgrasses. Native warm season grasses are better for ground nesting birds because they provide open space at ground level and spread upright forming an overhead canopy. This allows for easier movement by the hen and her chicks and the canopy serves as shade as well as protection from predators.
These grasses also provide a food source as well as attract insects. Native warm season grasses provide better nesting and brood rearing habitat for quail than introduced grasses, such as Coastal bermudagrass, fescue and King Ranch Bluestem.
When planting warm season grasses, use a combination of two or more such as little bluestem, switchgrass, big bluestem, Indiangrass and sideoats grama and seed during early spring. Native warm season grasses combined with a rotational cattle grazing system can be used to benefit the plant community for both livestock and wildlife. In addition, it will also be a good idea to re-establish important forbs such as partridge pea, Illinois bundleflower, annual sunflower, western ragweed and croton if they are no longer found in the soil seed bank. For quail, it may also be good to establish woody plants such as American (sand) plum, hackberry/sugarberry and shrub lespedeza.
Habitat Management for Quail & Dove Foods
Nesting and brood rearing sites can be created,enhanced and maintained simply and economically by discing or the use of prescribed fire. Mechanical disturbance or burning will set back vegetative succession, creating areas dominated by annual grasses and weeds. Disc or burn no more frequently than every two years, as dead vegetative material from the previous growing season is often used in the construction of quail nests. Likewise, all nesting cover should not be manipulated in any given year in order to provide constant opportunity for nesting or renesting with suitable habitat well distributed across the property. Discing is a management practice that creates natural food plots for quail and dove. stimulates the growth of beggarweed, ragweed, and partridge pea, which are excellent at attracting insects, an essential food for chicks. Of course these plants also produce valuable seeds that are preferred by adult birds.
Managing Quail and Dove Habitat: Think Ahead
Habitat management whether it be for dove or quail or other wildlife is all about planning. Fall quail populations are dependent on the reproductive success of the preceding spring and summer months, but for there to be adequate quail nesting habitat it must be grown the year before that! Bobwhite quail nest in the prior year’s growth, so they will be looking for (standing “dead”) perennial, warm season bunchgrasses from the year prior.
Adequate, high quality nesting cover allows quail and other ground nesting birds ample opportunity for nest site selection, and reduces nest losses to predators. Quality nest sites are characterized by bunchgrasses and one of the most important ones is little bluestem. Areas managed for quail nesting habitat should be located on well-drained soils with brood rearing areas and escape cover nearby.
For both doves and quail, newly created open areas, fallow fields and reclaimed pastures are ideal for discing strips that will provide quality nesting and brood rearing habitat. Discing during December and January will stimulate the growth of plants such as ragweed, croton (doveweed/goatweed), beggarweed, partridge pea, and other desirable quail foods. The ideal situation is to have a strip of bare ground, a strip of one-year old and two year old vegetative growth available throughout the field. Strip discing during the “fallow” time of the year also replants annual sunflower, which provides food and cover for quail as well as an excellent dove hunting site in the early fall. Disced strips should be irregularly shaped, 30-80 feet in width and extend the length of the field.
Bobwhite quail and Mourning doves are different animals as is quail habitat and dove habitat, but the very same management practices can be used to manage for one or both. Doves will readily feed in areas that are managed specifically for quail. If there are at least some quail in your area then an increase in habitat management may very well increase the local quail population. If there are few to no quail, then implementing the management practices discussed earlier will promote and attract more-mobile doves to your property.