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Connect the Dots

… to Get Quail to Respond to Habitat Management Efforts

By Ben Robinson

You’ve worked hard on your property over the past few years.  It seems like you’ve sprayed enough herbicide to kill every blade of fescue in the county and your native grass plantings could serve as the set for Little House on the Prairie.  Shrub thickets are in place and you’ve even started using fire to manage your fields.  Your 100-acre farm is finally shaping up to be a bobwhite paradise.

November rolls around and your setters are in prime shape as they bust through the brush in search of that first wild covey of the season.  An hour passes and not a hint of a point.  After four hours of hard hunting both you and your dogs are losing interest and you call it a day. This story plays out over and over throughout the season until you finally give up and realize that you don’t have any birds using your newly created “bobwhite paradise”.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far too common for quail managers working on private lands.  So what is the problem?  The habitat is in place and it looks great.  In our last discussion, in the context of Shaker Village, we talked about scale and how more habitat is better.  The reality is most of us don’t own a Shaker Village.  We don’t have a 3,000 acre canvas at our disposal where we truly can create a bobwhite masterpiece.  In Kentucky, the average farm size is around 150 acres.  This forces us to start thinking about connectivity.

Let’s get back to the 100-acre farm.  That landowner worked hard to create the perfect quail habitat but the birds didn’t respond.  He decided to go back to the drawing board and critically evaluate what went wrong.  As he began looking at aerial photographs he realized that his 100-acre farm was an “island in a sea of nothing”.  He was completely surrounded by mowed fields.  The nearest quail habitat was separated by at least 300 acres of manicured grass.

The aerial photography said it all.  He knew that if he wanted birds on his farm he had to work with his neighbors to connect their habitat.  The neighbors, who also had an interest in quail, jumped on board and began to improve their own property.  Within one year enough habitat was in place to connect the dots.  The original 100 acres of habitat was connected and quickly grew into 500 acres of premier cover and the birds responded positively.

Remember that unproductive November hunt we talked about earlier?  That wasn’t the case two seasons later.  Those old setters went to bed dreaming of covey flushes while the landowner kicked back and feasted on fried quail.