For gauging the health of a Texas brushland ecosystem, quails can act as the canaries in the coal mine because their safety and nutritional needs are delicately tied to native Texas habitat. Loss of that habitat has been identified as the number 1 reason for their decline.
As a small, ground-dwelling bird, they are subject to extreme pressures from prey, the environment, and nutrition sources. Unlike many birds, quail do not migrate, so they are subject the quality of food and shelter nearby.
If your, or your neighbors lands have poor diversity of bunchgasses, and brush for shade, the quail will disappear. Native grass grows tall and dense, visually protecting them from predators, and the bunches provide alleyways of dirt so they can quickly escape. Native grasses and forbs also provide quality nutrition by way of seeds and attracting bugs, both of which make up majority of a quail’s diet.
The best way to manage for quail is to manage its habitat. Any land manager can improve the habitat for quail by ensuring they have met all the year-round needs. Quail need food (in the form of insects and seeds), access to water, shelter from predators and harsh weather, and areas to safely nest and raise their brood. Plant diversity is key to meeting all of these requirements.
Protection from predators: Quail need a variety of native bunch grasses to hide in and provide bare ground alleyways to escape through the grasses quickly.
Nesting: Quail nest on the ground and bunchgrasses provide ideal nesting habitat. These same grasses are needed to provide screen cover for their offspring. The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office recommends providing an abundance of quality nest sites to improve the chances a nest will not be found by predators. This means larger areas need to have suitable bunchgrasses for successful nests, not just a small section.
Nutrition: A well-balanced mix of native grasses and forbs will provide species that bloom and produce seeds at different times of the year. The quail feed on the insects attracted to these plants and the seeds as well.
Water source: If you are also providing a water source to help during the dry times, it is also important provide them some tall bunch grasses leading up to the water, so they feel safe enough to approach it.
Thermal cover: Just like us, quail have to keep from overheating in the summer and the grasslands can get very hot. We are familiar with relative air temperature reports from our weather stations, but what you might not realize is that this temperature is taken in the shade in order to sample only the air temp. That doesn’t give an accurate measurement for how hot it can get in the direct sun. In the full sun, temperatures can quickly get up to 130 degrees in the grasslands. According to Dr. Timothy Fullbright, of Texas A&M in Kingsville, when a quail’s body temperature goes over 102F degrees, they will begin suffering from heat exhaustion and if it reaches 113F, they are in lethal trouble. Many landowners want to remove brush entirely from their property, but some brush is important to quail. The thick canopy created by clumps of brush provides thermal cover from the sun during the warmer months. Therefore, having interspersed groupings of brush amongst the grasses and forbs provides quail with “loafing spots,” as Dr. Fullbright called it. These places of dense cover and shade provide cool spots to take refuge in during the hottest times of the day. These thick, dense areas are equally important during the opposite time of year when temperatures drop.
Great mixes to plant for quail habitat:
King’s South Texas Native Mix is composed of 15 different South Texas specific bunch grasses. These varieties work well together and will provide an protective environment for the quail. Several of these grasses also provide seed that the quail prefer.
King’s Native Grass Mix is composed of 8 different native bunchgrasses that will do well across Texas. This mix is a good step toward helping restore the quail’s native habitat and providing protection from predators.
Or, plant a custom mix. Our seed specialists can help you build a mix based on your property’s location and environment. Our Texas native species are ecotype specific and we can select the right species for your area that would be similar to the natural habitat. There are many benefits to planting a custom mix full of ecotype-specific varieties, as these species require less management to encourage growth and, once established, should sustain themselves.
Don’t forget the forbs! We have several flowering species that attract beneficial insects, which is an important food source for quail during the breeding season. Ask us to add some forbs for quail into your mix. We even have Western Ragweed, which is a quail favorite.