How to encourage quail on your property

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Last Updated: 
April 2, 2007

CORVALLIS - Two species of quail are native to Oregon – California quail and mountain quail. Both species are very social birds and live in coveys (family groups) in the winter, says Michael Pope, who conducts research on quail for the Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

These quail coveys can range from a few birds to more than 200. The birds spend most of their time on the ground and fly only when alarmed. They also may run when they feel they are in danger. Hawks, falcons, house cats, bobcats and coyotes prey on quail, but they often out-run or out-maneuver these predators in dense shrubs.

Each species of quail can be easily identified by the plume on its head. The California quail has a forward-curving topknot adorning its head. Of the two species of quail in the state, these are most often seen near human settlements, in brushy lowlands, valleys, low riparian or streamside areas, agricultural lands and suburbs.

Mountain quails are adorned with a straight plume. They tend to be found at higher elevations and sometimes in drier habitats than California quail. Most commonly seen on grassy slopes and in valley bottoms in the drier part of the state, they also live in small woodland lots, valleys, grasslands or clear cuts in wetter areas in the western part of the state, said Pope.

Both species of these upland game birds feed on a variety of foods, including seeds, nuts, and berries. In addition to food, they need water and shelter.

There are certain kinds of plants you can grow on your property that will foster quail. Grasses and legumes (plants in the pea family) offer seeds for quail. Good choices include milk vetch and sweet vetch, clover, and lupine. Legume seeds are especially important in the colder months, as they have a high protein content.

Native shrubs with berries such as snowberry, huckleberry, salal, blackberry, currant, serviceberry, manzanita and Oregon grape are a rich source for the quails' diets. Native trees such as ash, cascara, oaks and hazelnut offer quail edible seeds or nuts.

Since they are ground feeders, quail will also take supplementary food off the ground or from low feeders. Cracked corn, millet and grains such as oats, rye, wheat and barley are good food sources. Don't use low platform feeders or feed quail in areas where cats or other mammalian predators are common.

Don't forget to provide water. All quail need a constant supply of water and are often found near water sources, especially in dry areas. Many conservation agencies build artificial water sources called "bird guzzlers." These guzzlers collect water and store it so birds have access to water during dry times. You can make your own guzzlers by digging holes in the ground, lining them with waterproof material such as plastic, and then making a ramp into the hole to allow access to the water. The guzzlers will collect rainwater and dew.

Quail need protected places to rest, called roost sites, as well as areas to nest. Large evergreen trees naturally provide this cover. When trees are not available, you can create artificial roosts by constructing large wire platforms approximately six to eight feet off the ground. These roosts provide protection from most ground-based predators.

Blackberry thickets, slash timber piles, high grass and shrubs and thick streamside vegetation also provide quails protection. Unfortunately, common practices such as neatly trimming shrubs, mowing fields, and clearing out thick vegetation severely limit the ability of quail to thrive in an area because they have little cover to hide in. If possible, try to leave some areas of taller grass, especially near shrubs or trees.

To learn more about quail in Oregon, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife has a "Gamebird Program" website that offers information on quail, grouse and introduced Rio Grande turkeys at: http://fw.oregonstate.edu/gamebird/.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Michael Pope