Wildlife Management: Bobwhite Quail Foods

Forbs (Weeds) are Quail Food

Whether found in Texas or Tennessee, bobwhite quail need food, cover, water and usable space to survive. Bobwhite are granivorous, which means they primarily eat seeds. More specifically, they eat the seeds that most people refer to as “weeds.” These weed seeds are often abundant from late spring, during the summer and into the early fall. Quail can also supplement their diet with some leafy green material as well as insects.

Quail foods are rather abundant when temperatures are warm, but shortly after the first killing frost the natural supply of quail foods begin to decrease. It becomes much more difficult for quail to scratch up a meal, especially since they are not the only ones. All throughout the fall and winter other birds and rodents compete with quail for the summer-grown seeds.

Plant Diversity Means Available Quail Foods

For land owners thinking about managing for wildlife, particularly bobwhite quail, at least one long-term goal should be provide as much plant diversity on a property as possible. Food habit studies across the bobwhite quail’s range have found that they consume the seeds of over 1,000 different plants!

Even with that being the case, some plants are more important for quail locally. Managers should learn to recognize the plants in the field and to determine which seeds are represented in the food of hunter-harvested quail during the hunting season. Though quail can eat a variety of seeds, there will always be one to a few that comprise the bulk of a quail populations winter diet.

Bobwhite Feeding Habits

The various plants that quail use during the winter are numerous. Not that seeds are widely available, but because the number of plants used by quail are generally greatest at times when food supplies are critically low. On the other hand, when food is abundant quail tend to eat what they like the most and can find with little trouble.

Though bobwhite quail use weed seeds heavily, woody plants also provide winter quail foods in the form of mast. In fact, bobwhite will consume the smaller acorns, such as those from some species of white oak. Other mast that are used for food by quail include hackberries, mesquite beans, pine seeds, grapes, mulberries, hackberry, sumac berries and many others.

Grasses Provide Cover & Some Food for Bobwhite

Grasses, especially bunchgrasses, are critically important for bobwhite quail, although most do not produce seeds large enough to provide a high food value. Grasses are necessary for nesting quail. However, bobwhite quail tend to nest in the prior year’s growth. This is because many grasses will not have put on considerable current-year’s growth by the time bobwhite begin to nest. This is also why livestock grazing management is important for wildlife consideration.

Though forbs are the staple of quail diets, there are some grasses that are important quail foods. These include paspalums,panic grasses, swithgrass, Kleingrass and Johnsongrass. There are others that will be locally important.

Cultivated Crops as Quail Food

Bobwhite quail are grassland species that require some amount of woody trees and shrubs, but they also do well around various types of agricultural production. Farm-grown grains, such as sorghum (milo), corn and even wheat, are sources of food for bobwhite quail. Most food value is post-harvest.

When grain is knocked to the grown during the harvesting process bobwhites will make use of seeds that are adjacent nearby woody cover, such as grown-up fence lines, grassy waterways or forest edge. Food plots for quail can also be established using cultivated crops on a smaller scale. Instead of harvesting, however, mature crops can be simply knocked over or shredded to provide supplemental seeds.

Managing for wildlife and habitat