Land Stewardship
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Land Stewardship

Increasing Insects as a Quail Food Resource

This story was originally published at wild-wonderings.blogspot.com in December 2014. For the most up-to-date information, please visit our website at nri.tamu.edu.

Quail management has been a familiar topic to many land managers over the past decades and many of those discussions have begun with attempting to increase quail food resources, such as grasses, and forbs. One commonly overlooked food resource for quail are arthropods, most commonly grasshoppers, but beetles, spiders, ants, and assorted larva are commonly found in quail crops (Jackson) and are important food resources for females during breeding season and quail chick growth (Hernandez et al.). Increasing the arthropod abundance in an area can be a daunting task, but with a few simple methods land managers can increase insect abundance and diversity in an area and create a valuable food resource for their quail population.

Photo credit: Marilyn Brinker

Quail diet mainly consists of seeds from grasses and forbs but also consist of fruits and seeds from trees and shrubs. Insects typically make up a small part of their diet throughout most of the fall and winter months but drastically increase during the spring and summer, due to higher nutritional needs because of breeding (Hernandez et al.). Quail expend a tremendous amount of energy during this time attempting to successfully lay a brood and need this extra nutrition to ensure their survival as well as their chick’s survival. Insects are also a very important factor in quail water consumption, quail typically receive most of their water needs from forbs, seeds, and insect unless they are located in very arid environments, which supplemental water may be necessary. Insects play a vital role in quail diet and water needs and if managed correctly they can be very beneficial to the quail population.

One very common technique to increase insect abundance in an area is strip disking. Strip disking is the process of using a tractor and disk to disturb the soil and set back succession, which allows succulent forbs to increase and restricts the growth of shrubs and trees. Disked strips should be approximately 20–50ft wide with an area left undisturbed approximately 60–100ft wide in between. This allows for sufficient nesting/cover habitat in the undisturbed areas and valuable insect and forb growth in the disked areas. Disking should be completed during spring to provide sufficient insect abundance during quail breeding season. These areas should be disked on a rotational basis and areas should be allowed to grow at least two-three years in between disking periods. If strip disking is completed correctly and is maintained on a regular basis you can count on a large influx of arthropods in the area as well as higher forb and seed production (Manley 1994). For more on the benefits of strip disking and its benefits for quail populations visit “Supplemental Feed for Quail”, and “Disking for Wildlife Management”.

A disked strip of land. Photo credit: Blake Alldredge.

Another common technique used to increase abundance of insects in an area is by manipulating water. As most people know anywhere that there is a moist area there is typically an excess amount of insects around, such as mosquitos, beetles, etc… One simple option is to allow livestock troughs to slightly overflow, which creates a moist area for arthropods to accumulate as well as provides supplemental water for quail. Another option is to divert water off an area, such as a road, so it can accumulate and create a small moist area for arthropods. These are called spreader dams, they are typically built along downward sloping terrain, such as roads, and are mounds of soil that divert the water from rain into a low lying area or an area where the water can be absorbed by the soil. Spreader dams have multiple benefits in that they provide a supplemental water source for many wildlife species, increase arthropod abundance and diversity for quail foraging, spread out the natural flow of water, and reduce erosion on roads. More information on how to choose a location for spreader dams and how they function can be found in this video “Form and Function of Spreader Dams”

Maintaining insect abundance in an area can be very important to your quail population’s health and should be monitored regularly throughout the year to ensure that management practices are producing results. Results can be monitored by the use of sweep nets and pitfall traps. Sweep nets are typically made of canvas and attached to a sturdy pole; these nets are then swept through the treated and untreated areas to collect insects. Pitfall traps are traps, such as a jar or bucket, which are placed inside the ground at ground level where insects will fall into them. Both of these traps are placed inside and outside of the treatment area and the insects that are caught are then counted and can show you the difference in insect abundance in the treated and untreated areas. Dale Rollins explains the benefits of strip disking and also demonstrates how to use sweep nets in an area that has been disked in the short video “Disking for Quail Habitat”.

It is important to remember that combining techniques to increase insect abundance for a food resource with other cover, and nesting management techniques, such as strip disking, can not only be beneficial to the quail population, but can also ease the load on your pockets books by achieving two management goals in one practice.

Works Cited

  1. Hernandez, F., and Peterson, J. M. 2007. Northern Bobwhite Ecology and Life History. : a point. Pages 40–64 in Texas Quails. L. A. Brennan(ed). Texas A&M University Press, College Station, USA.
  2. Jackson, A. S. 1969. Quail Management Handbook for West Texas Rolling Plains. Bulletin no. 48. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
  3. Manley, S. W., Fuller, R. S., Lee, J. M., and Brennan, L. A. 1994. Arthropod response to strip disking in old fields managed for northern bobwhites. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 48: 227–235.
  4. Texas Quail Conservation Initiative. 2005. Where Have All the Quail Gone? Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

At the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, our work improves the conservation and management of natural resources through applied research. nri.tamu.edu