Providing good habitat is the key to managing for bobwhite quail, but providing high quality seeds through fallow disking and food plots can be an important component of an comprehensive management program.
Bobwhite quail will use a variety of small grain plots, annual lespedezas and fields comprised of early early successional plant species. Remember that although food plots for quail are great, management for bobwhites should always give priority to the establishment and maintenance of native habitat.
In general, food plots for quail should not be nearly as large as those planted for hunting mourning and whitewing doves. Actually, bobwhite require that all of their habitat needs be filled in relatively close proximity. As a result, bobwhite quail are often associated with habitat edges. The best food plots for quail should be long and narrow, such as along a field border situated close to cover such as brushy thickets, fence rows or even hedgerows.
Wildlife use of a food plot is often times based on location, and site selection is especially important with quail. In general, a good food plot location would be adjacent to both a fallow field and a row crop field, where birds would almost certainly be traveling. The location would be further improved if the food plot’s location was in close proximity to a hedgerow or other brushy cover.
A native food plot can be established through habitat management practices. Native food plots for quail are those chock-full of what many landowners would refer to as “weeds.” Beneficial weeds for bobwhite quail include ragweed, partridge pea, native lespedezas, milk pea, butterfly pea, morning glories, blackberry (dewberry) smartweeds, pokeberry, and Illinois bundleflower. These native food plot plants are not only important for bobwhite food, but they also usually provide good overhead cover as well.
To promote these native plants such as the ones listed above, landowners should disk strips or small blocks adjacent to field borders during late winter. This habitat management practice disturbs the soil and encourages seed located in the soil to germinate. Disked areas can also serve as firebreaks during the winter for prescribed buring. Burning, by the way, on and two to four year cycle is probably the best way to manage for the early successional plants favored by many wildlife species, including bobwhite quail, turkey, and white-tailed deer.
I should also mention that quail often benefit from mixes that contain cowpeas and soybeans, but areas with a high density of whitetail deer will not allow these plants to produce seed for quail to eat. In short, if you want to a food plot for quail and you also have a lot of deer, do not plant cowpeas or soybeans. Also, do not plant grasses such as tall fescue, timothy, orchardgrass, bromegrasses, bluegrass, or King Ranch bluestem. These species can be detrimental to bobwhites and other wildlife species because they displace good nesting and brood-rearing habitat and they limit the movement of quail in general, quail chicks in specific.
Food Plot Mixes for Quail
Food is usually not the limiting factor for quail populations, but it never hurts to have more than enough food on a property. Now that you have a good idea of the foods that quail need, here are some ideas for food plots for quail. First, lets look at an annual cool season (winter) food plot mix. Since this is a mixture of annuals, it will have to be replanted each fall. This mixture works as food plots for doves and also those serving as firebreaks.
Winter (Cool Season) Annual Food Plot Mix
- 5 pounds of crimson clover
- 20 pounds of Austrian winter peas
- 50 pounds of wheat
Winter Annual Food Plot Mix
- 5 pounds of Egyptian wheat
- 5 pounds of milo (grain sorghum)
- 7 pounds of white proso millet
- 7 pounds of browntop millet
Spring (Warm Season) Annual Food Plot Mix
- 2 pounds of partridge pea
- 15 pounds of Kobe/Korean lespedeza
Spring Annual Food Plot Forb-Grass Mix
- 5 pounds of browntop millet
- 5 pounds of milo (grain sorghum)
- 10 pounds of buckwheat (where applicable)
- 15 pounds of iron-clay cowpeas
- 20 pounds of soybeans
These food plots will work just about anywhere you find bobwhite quail. By the way, bobwhite love the seeds produced by Kobe/Korean lespedezas, which are available to birds throughout the winter. Because of this, the lespedeza food plot seed mixture will be loaded with quail from December through February. If you are managing for quail, the first priority should always be to provide good quail habitat. Without good habitat and proper habitat management, food plots for quail will not make a noticeable difference.